Black Bear

Review by Sophie Brennan

Black Bear (Lawrence Michael Levine, 2020) takes part in two parallel acts connected by the reoccurring establishing shot of Allison (Aubrey Plaza) arising from a balcony in a red swimsuit. The phenomenon of the ‘red dress effect’ in film also has two effects. The first effect may heighten the sexual attractiveness of the person wearing red, which is a cause of the evolutionary reaction of blushing. The other asserts power, as it has the effect of increasing the watcher’s heart rate even beyond the barrier of a television screen. 

In Part One, an enigmatic filmmaker named Allison arrives at a cabin owned by a couple named Blair (Sarah Gadon) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott). The games played by Allison ignite a brewing tension between the couple which ends abruptly outside the limits of the camera shot. The world of Part One shows life outside of the film and essentially transforms into a stage in Part Two, where the scenarios are not all too different. Allison is now a lead actor on a set directed by her husband Gabe. In this reality Gabe stages a flirtation with the other actress, Blair.

In Part Two Allison acts out a brilliant scene whilst drunk, an international truth serum. This may suggest the tragic end to Part One was the inspiration for the film in Part Two. The powerful onlookers behind the film’s production in Part Two applaud Allison’s suffering performance. This hints that Allison’s raw performance may go on to win an award despite the torture that came with it. This shows the creative must bear pain for result, hence the significant interruption of the bear at the end of each Part like the interruption of an anonymous critic. 

The characters are not given much depth, so do be warned if that tactic is not to your liking as character contexts and archetypes are sacrificed for the film’s elemental artful puzzle. Ultimately, it is up to the audience to decide on the film’s meaning, which is what makes the viewing experience so captivating.

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