I’ve seen plenty of films that others have called “manipulative”, to say the least, but none seem to be so cavalier about it as The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg’s first attempt to be a serious director. Others that have ultimately been little but feverish attempts to tug at the heartstrings have been sneaky about it, trying to hide the fact that that’s all they were attempting to do, but The Color Purple seems to have no qualms about letting you know its true intentions; it walks right up to you and demands that you start crying, laughing, and cheering exactly when it wants you to, without skipping a beat. Now, that’s not to say the film isn’t effective at what it does, but there’s still that incessant nagging at the back of your head that the film is so manipulative with what it’s doing, and that detracts from the overall experience significantly.
Whoopi Goldberg, in her breakthrough role, plays Celie, a young poor black woman living in 1900s America. The film details her toils and troubles, from her two pregnancies by her father when she was 14, to her forced marriage with Albert Johnson (known to her simply as Mister), and his cruel treatment of Celie throughout the years. Really, that’s all to this one; watching Celie go through hardship after hardship, unrelenting, while a few spots of bright light at the end of the tunnel shine through precisely when the film wants them to, so that you don’t completely shatter and lose all hope. You’ll cry, you’ll smile, you’ll laugh, and you’ll weep for joy, and all the while you’ll be miffed that the film is essentially shoving you through each of these emotions, regardless of whether you want to feel them or not. The Color Purple has an agenda, and damned be all those who’d disagree with its methods, or even so much as speak out against it; you’ll do exactly what the film wants you to do, and you’ll thank it for doing so. It’s to that end that the film has so much production value to it, and is as well made as it is; well acted, and (I guess I shouldn’t hesitate to say) well directed. The one thing that I disagreed with to a large degree was the score; most of the film’s manipulation came courtesy of the score, which was without a doubt the most on-the-nose, blatant score I have ever heard in any film.
The Color Purple marked Steven Spielberg’s first attempt to break out of the “summer blockbuster” mold that he had constructed around himself up to that point. Looking at the film’s reception come awards season, it seems that Hollywood wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge Spielberg as the serious director he’d wanted to be with this film; he didn’t even get an Oscar nom for Best Director, even after winning the DGA Award, which would be the first time in the history of both awards that that would happen. It might be some consolation that the film did get the nom for Best Picture, but really, after seeing the film, can you really blame the Academy for giving it the nomination? This was Oscar bait before Oscar bait was even a term, and any attempt to look at it otherwise is… well, it’d be ignoring the color purple in the fields around you. This is a long one, and it feels the length it is, but there are some damn good performances here, as well as some nice cinematography, so it won’t be like there’s no reason to kill some time with it. Well, not too much.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10