Midterm: Nola Darling, the Girl Who Wanted

Through comparing the end sequences of both “Mo’ Better Blues” and “She’s Gotta Have It” I aim to reveal just what it is that Nola Darling wants through the analysis of Lee’s film techniques and textual choices. If we assume the overarching theme of the movies’ endings are “resolution”, we can begin to make sense of the filmic journey Lee has taken us on.

In “Mo’ Better Blues”, we come to understand the significance of Bleek’s search and acquisition of Indigo when he asks her to “Save [his] life” by having his child. For Bleek, entering into a domestic way of life isn’t only a rite of passage, his ticket into adulthood; it’s his only way of life now that he can no longer play the trumpet. Lee creates a visual shorthand for “new beginnings” in the choice of his next shot: a blood-red morning sky with a bright yellow sun slowly emerging from the clouds. A ferry drifts by along the bottom of the screen as if a testament to Bleek’s finally having docked his wandering vessel at port, and the Statue of Liberty looks approvingly on, perfectly American just like the union between man and woman. In a sense, the scene is trés Americana, and a nice salute to the bourgeoisie lifestyle that Lee upholds. Lee also has the previously ominous jazz riff end and another begin, symbolizing musically that something different is on the horizon along with the promise of the new day.

Cut to the next scene, and the beat continues for the “Family Development” montage starts up, “A Love Supreme” at approximately 01:58:37. Interestingly enough, in the beginning, there’s only a saxophone, a piano, and drums playing along melody, as though it’s Bleek’s band continuing on without him. The scenes are classically familiar to anyone who’s seen a romantic comedy before: Indigo is pregnant and the husband lovingly touches her stomach and basks in her “pregnancy glow”. Standing at the window to his apartment, they gaze out over the Brooklyn waterfront, the Brooklyn Bridge visible to their right, as they cross over into a new stage in their life, connecting their two worlds. Then comes the birth scene, the soon-to-be father a nervous wreck while the soon-to-be-mother tells him to “Calm down!” and it’s meant to be understandable that Bleek should be anxious: after all, it is his baby, which he only asserts continuously once the child is born: “Look at my boy!” “He looks just like me!” “Come on, walk to daddy!”. Even immediately after the child’s birth, the doctor addresses Indigo saying, “Congratulations, Mrs. Gilliam, you have a son” and hands her the child, yet Bleek says “Thank you”, as though she’s just bestowed upon him the Christmas present he’s always wanted. Then come the scenes of “growing up”, Bleek and Indigo dressing Miles for school, Bleek and Indigo playing tag with Miles, Bleek and Indigo watching him play the trumpet. Ultimately, it’s Bleek’s authority that wins out and we’re made to believe that it’s his way of breaking the chain by allowing his son to go out and play despite Indigo’s wishes to the contrary, and it probably is. In all sincerity, Lee’s paralleling of the two scenes would attest to that reading, yet I can’t help but think, “What would Bleek’s mother have done?” We don’t even know her name, yet one can gather that she had a considerable amount of authority over her family in that even when Bleek’s father intervened, they only reached a consensus: that Bleek could play after his lesson was finished. So what was really at stake in Indigo’s deciding to marry Bleek? Aside from giving up her apartment, her job as a teacher, and her last name, I think we can look at Nola Darling’s character in “She’s Gotta Have It” to find out.

By the end of “She’s Gotta Have It”, we’ve seen Nola and all her men and they’re not alone in waiting for some kind of resolution. So, one can imagine when Nola starts saying her goodbyes, how everyone in the screening room reacted: “She’s gonna choose him?” “No, I actually liked Mars” “Haha! Greer would say something like that”. Everyone had something to say, including Nola, and she let each know one by one what that the relationships were just not what she was looking for. However, her reasoning got me. As bell hooks asserts in her essay, it’s difficult to take Nola’s character seriously when her fall back plan for “getting her act together” is becoming celibate and choosing Jamie, the man who “nearly raped” her. Riddled with complexities, the move makes us question her belief in her own sexual liberation, the very same liberation that we were asked to trust and respect the entire movie. While watching her ask Jamie to take her back, not only did I feel she was essentially begging (the slow-motion walk away from him reminded me of the same tactic employed by children who are denied something, “I’ll just walk away slowly, give mommy time to change her mind about that cookie”), but I couldn’t believe her willingness to cede her right to sex, the very right that she maintained brought her so much happiness throughout the majority of the movie.

Not to mention when watching the films side-by-side, I realized the toll the black and white choice seemed to take on the entire movie. The scenes felt reductive, empty almost, the music decidedly lower than the upbeat jazz tempos in “Blues”, the number of characters drastically smaller as well. It just felt like once Nola had said her goodbyes, there was little left but a gray scale shot and small jazz riffs to keep her company. Yet it’s this exact feeling of pity for her character that she rejects: “He wanted a wife, that mythic old-fashioned girl next door”, Nola says in one of the few times she directly addresses the audience. So what did she want?Screen shot 2013-03-29 at 4.16.46 PM

Clearly, Nola doesn’t want.

Nola Darling wanted the freedom to want. Unlike Indigo whose words become scarcer and scarcer as the movie goes on, Nola finally speaks up about her desires at the end of the film. She didn’t want to be a wife, or settle down, she wanted to have sex, and when she saw that that wasn’t compatible with what Jamie wanted, she no longer wanted him. Even in “Crooklyn” we can see the restrictions placed on a character when they adopt roles of domesticity, particularly when Troy’s mother screams, “I can’t even take a piss without six people hanging off my tits”. Sure, being a mother or a father or a stand-in parent make you more responsible, but they also prevent you from running down the block after your friends or climbing into bed alone with no demands from anyone else, no need to explain where you were or who you’re calling and why. I don’t even think it was just the freedom to have sex, but rather the freedom to have sex if she so chose, or the freedom to be celibate the next week. Nola Darling wasn’t radical because she had three men, or because she tried to conform and failed, she was radical because she wanted to be, and who knows what she’ll want to be next.


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