Color Symbolism

There are many aspects that go into making a film. Aside from the story alone, various  details need to be considered in order to enhance cinematic elements and transport the viewer into a new world. Color is one of those aspects that can make a huge difference in a film.

The best way to learn about color symbolism is to observe how the professionals utilize color throughout their films. Movies like Whiplash and Amelie Poulain are great resources for excellent use of color.

Let’s check out how color plays an important role in both these films.

Amelie

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Amelie tells the story about an off girl on a journey to help those around her.

Amelie is a very whimsical film full of wonder and fantasy. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet set this whimsical tone by saturating the film with color. The entire film is predominately colored with yellow, red and green.

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Color goes deeper than just a theme. Color is a symbol. In Amelie, she lost her mom and ends up living with her cold-hearted father. Her way of escape is to insert her mindset into a different world which is shown through red tones.

Red: The scenes that are predominantly red are Amelie’s home. This hints at the representation of her character which is vibrant and the need to escape into a warmer world.

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Yellow and Green: Green is a color of peace, nature, relaxation, and calmness. This attribute can be witnessed in Amelie’s identity as she remains calm and relaxed throughout her journey. The warm yellow is used to represent liveliness, happiness, joy, and excitement which is Amelie’s personality in her journey. Amélie is able to create a surreal feeling through color and the film creates an identity for the viewer to connect to.

When making a film, be intentional about the colors you use. Get a set designer that really understands how to translate mood through color and know exactly the feeling you want to represent.

8For more details on colors and their meanings, check this post.

Whiplash

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A young drummer’s potential is put to the test by his abrasive music teacher.

For Whiplash, we’re going to focus on use of color in costume/wardrobe. In this film, the darker the clothes, the more in control the character has in a scene. Let’s check out the costume color transformation from the protagonist played by Miles Teller.
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In his weak moments, he is wearing light colors. As he progresses and gains confidence, he begins to wear darker colors.

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The only time J.K Simmons, the movies antagonist, wears a lighter outfit is during a conversation where he is extremely vulnerable. For the rest of his scenes, he is wearing all black to drive home the fact that he is in power.

WHIPLASH, J.K. Simmons, 2014. ph: Daniel McFadden/©Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy Everett

Although the color of outfits are something that seems so small, it can convey so much without saying anything at all.

Color is a powerful medium that can enhance your film if used correctly. Next time you watch a film, study how color was used and how it adds to the overall mood.

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