What makes an Oscar-worthy film? Many assume it’s the acting. Dramatic, tear-jerking performances indicate a likely nomination. While this factor is essential, we often forget that cinema is a form of multimodal communication. It includes dialogue, visuals, music, and action. Great film, therefore, is detail-oriented. It never neglects visual communication and world-building. Every element adds to the story and message. Specifically, style shows a character’s implicit feelings and explicit objectives. Clothing can often speak for a person, expressing the things words fail to say.
“Clothing can often speak for a person, expressing the things words fail to say.”
Christine, or “Lady Bird”, never has a distinct style. Her polarized looks reflect the dynamism of her young adult life. Teenagers evolve constantly, not knowing who they want to be or how they want to look. The teens in Lady Bird represent the instability of this time, often vacillating in their looks. Lady Bird’s lacey pink dress contrasts her otherwise late-90s inspired pieces, possibly indicating changes in her mood or outlook, or how she wishes to be perceived by others.
Call Me by Your Name uses Oliver and Elio’s clothes to express their feelings for each other. Elio’s vibrant style juxtaposes Oliver’s standard uniform of shorts and a button-down. The movie is quiet, and sometimes it becomes easy to miss details. For example, the film never explicitly addresses Elio taking Oliver’s shirt. This detail attempts to illustrate and highlight their connection without words. Instead, it allows the viewer to interpret visuals independently.
Period pieces like Phantom Thread and Dunkirk use style to communicate setting and era. In Phantom Thread, fashion drives the plot. In fact, the majestic dresses and designs may be a character of their own. As a film about power dynamics, clothing galvanizes the plot forward. It reminds us that fashion remains a subjective and often-fickle art form that can act as the vehicle for other social issues.
Dunkirk’s homogenous use of color and style cultivates a sense of anonymity in the characters. The soldiers blur together as a reminder that they represent a generation lost to a conflict much bigger than themselves. The differences between the uniforms of the German soldiers and British soldiers are nearly indiscernible, generating a sense of distrust between the characters.
Finally, Get Out uses style to emphasize racial tensions and a sense of unease. The black, white, and red color palette of the infamous party scene hints that something is about to go terribly wrong. Clothing serves to build suspense for the audience, as well as add visual tension as an obvious use of foreshadowing.
A character’s choice of clothing reflects their motives and desires, almost as much as their actions and words. The clothing people wear in the movies was chosen for a specific reason, even if that reason was simply because it looked good on the actor wearing them. As we watch and prepare for this Sunday’s Academy Awards, let’s not forget the role of style and visual communication in film and media, as it is all part of the process of becoming a more aware, involved consumer of the arts.
Written by Zaira Mughal