Whereas I normally prefer watching trailers (I kid you not, I am a big fan of spoilers), knowing the premise for Luce was enough to prepare me for what I was about to see. In a nutshell: A liberal-minded White couple, Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth), are forced to reconsider their image of their adopted African son (Kelvin Harrington Jr.) after being confronted by his African-American History teacher (Octavia Spencer) about an extremely disturbing essay he has written for his class at school. Apologies for explicitly mentioning and emphasising their race, but I can't help but wonder if you as well can imagine exactly the type of characters, and behaviour, we might expect to be seen in this film. From the many bottles of white or red wine drank by the Edgards, to the blunts smoked by fourth-generation Harvard-prospectives, the entire film is build around these stereotypes of the different peoples existent in American society. Ironically, whereas the plot of the film increasingly tries to rid the younger generation of the older generation who put them on pedestals and crown them hero of the year, it seems that the deeper into the plot we go the more rock solid the characters become in their backgrounds and stereotypes.
The film revolves on very basic, yet highly politically debatable questions. "Why you and not me?" "What’s the difference between punishing someone for being a stereotype and rewarding them if they’re not?" "Why can I only be a saint or a monster?" This may seem fairly straight forward, if we discard other situations of political importance that have no direct relevance to the plot but do aid the plot in its continue. Think of police brutality and dehumanization of the mentally ill during a public breakdown who coincidentally also happen to be African-American. Think of the issue of consent, false accusations, and (broken) trust of (/in) higher authorities. There are so many elements packed in this film that it seems hard to take them all into account, if we are meant to even take them into account. Does it really matter that our poster-boy and main character Luce grew up the first seven years of his live as an Eritrean child-soldier? Even after the years of therapy (which are never mentioned again, or in detail) was he always doomed to sabotage his academic and sports excellence by an almost psychopathic need for violence? (And here introduced is another topic: extreme violence in high schools). By touching upon all these subjects, what exactly is the main issue the film wants to address?
Luce is set up to be a psychological puzzle on who's speaking or even seeing the truth, how far does trust go, does background really set you up for life / can it be changed / does it explain why you go of the rails, what does behaviour say about the truth of your actions, and maybe most importantly – should you really trust someone who is a smiling goody two shoes all the freakin' time? My mind is still going in circles trying to find out what is at the heart of this film. Because it touches on so many political, philosophical, contemporary topics I can see this film go far – but only if these topics are in depth explored in their rightful context. I'm not sure if I would have preferred Julius Onah's and JC Lee's original theatre play over their later adaptation to film. Apart from the stellar performances, I would have a hard time getting into the mindset without Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury's amazing soundtrack. The melodic somber organ alternated with an up tempo industrial beat gives a sense of timelessness and urgency to the film. All in all, to me it feels like Luce, instead of breaking the boundaries and stereotypes between people, for now still caters to the enlightened.
Luce is in cinemas now.
Reviewed as Film of the Week, in partnership with Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh.