[FILM] Empire of Light

It’s been a while since I blogged about a film and it’s not because I was busy with life but rather because the films I’ve watched didn’t left any deep impression on me. That’s not to say that they weren’t good, but just not the type where I felt I need to say something about, but anyways let’s talk about the nominee for Best Cinematography at the recent 95th Academy Awards.

Mix of everything?

I personally felt that there were too many things ongoing and too many themes it tried to cover. I entered the cinema without knowing what the show was about except the fact that the Queen from The Crown plays the female lead. I didn’t even know it was a British film set in the Thatcher era. Anyways, the film was not shy in hiding the extramarital affair between Hilary Small, the duty manager of local theatre Empire Light, and her boss Donald Ellis. Not a surprising trope.

Hilary working in the cinema

But when the new employee Stephen Murray shows up as a new employee of the Empire Light, we sense a tension between Hilary and Stephen. At first, I presumed it was just a blossoming friendship between these two but no, after the New Year’s countdown the two began their sex escapades. When Stephen and Hilary went to the beach, they looked rather intimate and comfortable with each other, even after Hilary — whom was hinted at the very beginning to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder —had a manic episode, yet something tells me they did not transcend beyond friendship. Initially, Stephen hung out with Janine and Hilary stuck around with the both of them on their dates and appeared rather jealous. That’s when the film became odd for me. Were they just platonic friends and sexual partners or were they romantically linked? Did Hilary wanted more than a sex buddy? I’m not sure.

The beach scene before Hilary had a manic episode

Life sucks but it goes on

This Sam Mendes film was a good effort at blending various pertaining themes like racism, toxic behaviour and mental health against the backdrop of a chaotic society under Thatcherism, but I believed there needed to be a stronger overarching plot device to unite these themes. Many plots came and go. For instance, was the bird Stephen and Hilary healed meant to mean anything? A hint at renewed freedom? Or perhaps, a symbolism that life goes on no matter the obstacles faced?

Also, what happened to Hilary last summer? The audience knows that she was institutionalised briefly presumably over a relationship, but what exactly happened? As revealed while on a manic episode and before she was institutionalised again, we know from her lashing out that she has had a bad childhood and romantic life but beyond that, we are as clueless as Stephen. Perhaps Sam Mendes didn’t reveal it to us as it was such a private affair but that event was such a pivotal moment in Hilary’s life.

Besides its romantic aspects, Empire of Light also plays homage to the cinemas. Stephen is a cinephile and we can genuinely feel that awe Stephen had when he first saw the old cinema (before it became a place to have casual sex) and I thought that was nice, but what is going to happen when Stephen goes to college? Will he ever return to Margate in the summer and help out Norman? It also seemed rather unfortunate that we did not get to know more about Norman and his estranged son. Are they still on talking terms?

Stephen training under Norman as a projectionist

Overall, while I appreciated the themes and its attempts to touch on many themes I felt it would be greater if Sam could channel his focus at just a few areas and dive deep in them.

Stephen and Hilary enjoying the NYE fireworks

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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