Spike Lee's The 25th Hour
Review of the film and use of mise-en-scene
Spike Lee brilliantly exemplifies the filming concept of mise-en-scene in, The 25th Hour. Similarly to all of Spike Lee’s films, the film is set in the glorified New York City where it becomes more than just a back drop; it becomes a living character within the film. Set in a post 9/11 era, the feelings that are invoked of living in a world recovering from a horrible tragedy mirrors the feelings of the characters in the film. Monty, the main character is about to go to jail for seven years, and is dealing with this personal tragedy through out the film and finding a way to make his own peace with it. Monty’s father is also dealing with his own tragedy, with the death of his wife which happened many years ago, but it is still finding ways to cope and how to deal with this very harsh reality. The other characters as well, are finding ways to cope with their new realities. Naturelle, coping with the loss of her boyfriend; Jakob coping with the taboos of associating himself with one of his students; and also Kostya, who later the audience finds out is responsible for Monty’s jail sentence, is also dealing with the repercussions of his actions. All of these personal struggles are portrayed through out the film, with various techniques such as lighting, color, framing, and sound.
The color and lighting of the film are immediately established in the opening credits of the film, with a cold, drab view of New York City. Blue lights are shown in place of where the Twin Towers stood; showing a bleak and somber view that also mirrors many of the film’s characters and scenes. This cold, blue light seems to follow Monty through out the film and is exaggerated in the club scene, where Monty is being given advice on going to prison by one of the bouncers.
Each scene and character have their own color, adding more to the feel of the movie and the emotions invoked by each character. The closing dream sequence, about a life that couldn’t happen is bleach white and appears over exposed, almost having an association of what heaven on earth would be. A personal hell is also portrayed, in the bathroom scene of the club, with Jakob and his student.
This is just one of many extreme opposites that are displayed in the film, to add to the emotions displayed simply by the direction of Lee. Lee is also extremely deliberate in the framing of the scene and incorporating color. The majority of shots in Monty’s apartment always seems to have the bright yellow ‘Cool Hand Luke’ poster perfectly framed behind Monty signifying the correlation of an anti-hero who is dealing with their own tragedy of prison life.
The 25th hour desperately tries not to be a film just about 9/11 and wonderfully succeeds. This very somber tragedy is used eloquently to demonstrate how all types of people, regardless of race and status, have their own ways of coping with personal devastation.