The Color Purple (1985) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

Steven Spielberg’s first attempt at a ‘serious’ film is a remarkable success, that found both critical acclaim and commercial riches upon its release. From the prolific director behind such mega-hits like E.T., Jaws and the Indiana Jones saga, this richly textured story spans decades in the life of an abused, uneducated woman living a grueling life in the South. Uniformly outstanding performances abound, with exceptional cinematography and an equally prodigious screenplay from scribe Menno Meyjes, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize wining novel of the same name.

Covering 30 years during the early 1900s to late 1930s, the movie tells the life of a poor African-American woman named Celie Harris (Whoopi Goldberg) whose abuse begins when she is young and continues through out her adulthood. Twice impregnated by her perverted stepfather, and forced to give up the child Celie grows accustomed to the sexual and mental torture forced upon her by the male predators in her life.

She is then given away to a brutal man she calls, Mister (Danny Glover). The marriage is one of convenience for him as he subjugates Celie to endless physical abuse and forced sexual interaction. Looking for any reprieve from these tormentors, Celie contains her grief and looks to God for the strength to live on. Her prayers are answered in the form of two strong-willed women, who teach her the value of self-worth and independence.

Celie is transformed as she finds her self-worth through the help of two strong female companions. One a boozing juke-joint singer (Margaret Avery), and the other a heavy-set no-nonsense woman named Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), who is set to become her daughter-in-law. All along Celie only longs for the kinship she felt with her sister Nettie, long-ago banished from the estate for he unwillingness to sleep with Mister.

The Color Purple is a sometimes grueling experience due to its harsh subject matter that includes exploration of poverty, racism, and rape. The sprawling screenplay is expertly concocted. The story’s through-line and momentum never waivers during its protracted running-time. This is a heavy film but not nearly as unrelentingly grim as 2013’s 12 Years a Slave.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey

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