The Color Purple (1985) (PG-13)

The Color Purple is Alice Walker's crowning achievement. Published in 1982, it only took Steven Spielberg three years to turn the Pulitzer Prize winning book into a film that was nominated for an impressive eleven Academy Awards. Not only is it Whoopi Goldberg's rise to fame in film, but "The Color Purple" also marks the beginning of the softer side of Spielberg's career which would lead to more sensitive works that would reach a peak with "Schindler's List". The book is the predecessor to such works as Toni Morrison's Beloved which was graced with the Nobel Prize for literature. But "The Color Purple" should be remembered for the individual work that it is, not as the harbinger to greater works, nor the beginning of careers.
Set in the early 1900s, "The Color Purple" follows the life of Celie, a young black girl whose life is fraught with abuse and hardships. In the opening scenes we establish that she has a very close relationship with her sister, Nettie.
Celie's oppression comes in the form of her father, whose unspeakable acts of crime will not be catalogued here. The bond between the two sisters slowly becomes unwound as Celie goes one way and Nettie—the other.
"The Color Purple" is a feminist work—not in the sense that it's trying to create in change in politics; but that it's central characters are women victimized by men. But it doesn't celebrate the crimes of the man, nor does it dwell on them longer than it should. It's easy to empathize with the women of the film because everyone of them are fully realized characters.
Besides Celie and Nettie's father, the other main male character is Albert who marries Celie in a detestable fashion that's similar to selling and trading cattle.
She is not Albert's first wife, so there are a plethora of step-children involved and who gets to take care of them? Celie, of course. She is beaten when she talks back and she is expected to clean the house, feed the children, and be quiet.
An interesting perspective that "The Color Purple" is how it addresses white people. This is not a story about slavery like Beloved is, but it does present a female black character as the protagonist as Morrison's book does.
"The Color Purple" is a devastating picture. I'm freely willing to admit that this film makes me cry every single time. Maybe that's why I have such a love for it.
The restraint with which Spielberg shoots the film and with which Goldberg plays Celie, is astonishing.
Whoopi Goldberg turns out a masterful performance that remains one of the best. Her tight-lipped, sorrowful, loving, beaten-into-submission character is so genuine and contradicts most everything else that that comedienne has done.
 There are a few interesting things to note about "The Color Purple": even though it was nominated for several Oscars, it won none (a travesty). The music was done by Quincy Jones and a number of other collaborators instead of Spielberg's usual maestro John Williams.
But while all the things fall into place perfectly—the costumes, the sets, the villainy of Danny Glover, the sass of Oprah Winfrey, and the music—it would all fall apart if it weren't for the lead character. For being so pivotal to the plot, Celie remains silent for much of the movie. It's in Goldberg's eyes that she lives—it's quite breathtaking to watch.
Perhaps I'm biased with "The Color Purple" because it makes me cry—oh well. I still think that it's one of Spielberg's overlooked masterpieces and is sensationally potent and powerful.
I'm not sure a list of adjectives would do it justice. The movie hinges on its simple story line, the beauty of the dialogue, and the tenderness of the characters.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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