“My spirit takes journey, my spirit takes flight, could not have risen otherwise & I am not running… I am choosing.” Alike is an intelligent and poetically talented 17 year old girl. On the surface, Dee Rees’s Pariah (2011), is the coming of age story of African-American lesbian, Alike. Growing up in a traditional household that is sexually repressed and a society that is hateful towards her for being homosexual she finds solace in poetry and academics. Through her plight, the film intelligently layers the dark themes associated with the struggles of a gay teenager growing up in the inner city- gender, sexuality, family relations, hate, religion, ignorance, etc. But the film is very hopeful in that it contrasts the dark themes with pleasant moments of optimism. I am analyzing one of the final scenes in the Dee Rees’s Pariah (2011). The scene [@ 01:15:11] where Alike is reconciling with Arthur, her father, on the rooftop of Laura’s building. The rooftop scene encompasses the beauty of the morals of the narrative really well and at the same time contrasts the dark themes of the film in a manner that compliments the overall aesthetic of the production.
The scene’s Mise en Scene sets the tone for the conclusion of the narrative. The scene takes place on the rooftop of Laura’s apartment building overlooking the sun setting over Brooklyn. Throughout the film we see Alike deep in thought several times; on the bus, in school, at the club- in all these circumstances the film utilizes dark, incandescent lighting and shadows to extenuate the tone of the emotions and events Alike is reflecting on. In this scene however the lighting comes from the bright, vibrant yellow-orange sunset. The film uses this in order to help visualize an appreciation of Alike’s silver lining; almost as if to say that Alike see’s the art and the beauty that came of her pain and suffering- this is expressed in the poem she reads against the montage of her leaving for California. Alike’s outfit shows a more developed sense of style. This expresses to the audience that she has grown and maturated from the sequence of events that have taken place in the narrative. The social blocking of the conversation between Alike and Arthur brings Arthur down to a more human level. Although Arthur is angled slightly above Alike to maintain his domineering male complex, this is the first time in the film we see him venerable. Alike and Arthur face the opposite direction on an equal plane, this is supposed to demonstrate naturalistic interaction between the two as well as give a sense of the subjective perspective of the film.
The cinematography in this scene is utilized to expresses the subjective point of view of Alike. The scene starts with a close up shot of Alike followed by a hand held long shot overlooking the sky & Arthur and Laura entering. Shift in focus in depth of field demonstrates the importances of Alike’s line “I’m not running, I’m choosing,” and Arthur’s reaction to it. We see that Arthur is man enough to accept his daughter for who she is and that he is not going to try to get her to run away from who she is, unlike his wife. The color balances of the yellow/orange spectrum is displayed in an aesthetically pleasing manner to help provide a strong sense of optimism, which is also complimented by the background noise of the wind and birds. The scenes in which Nina and Alike are bonding is a very optimistic time for Alike as well. And in those scenes the yellow/orange color spectrum is used to illustrate this but in a much darker tone. The reason for the darker tone being is that Alike’s optimism was eventually destroyed after Nina tells her she’s “not really gay.” Therefore, in using brighter tones in the rooftop scene, we get more of a sense of closure as an audience.
The rooftop scene encompasses the beauty layered in within the dark ominous narrative of Pariah. The film is very aesthetically pleasing and has many layers to it. It does not follow a formulaic structure like most “coming of age” films do but instead uses poetry and pays attention to metaphoric details in order to tell Alike’s story. Alike’s growth from the confusion of her sexuality and identity is illustrated eloquently though the use of light, blocking, depth of field, and audio.