Punch Drunk Love – Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – 2002

I recently rewatched Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 film Punch Drunk Love. This is a beautiful film which is excellently crafted and an interesting story.

Visually the film is stunning with a huge attention to detail particularly in the colour of the piece. The lead character Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) wears a blue suit throughout the film and his counter part and love interest Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) wears largely red and purple shades building an interesting contrast between the characters. The backgrounds and sets are considerably bland with a large amount of white unfurnished space. Moreover when with Lena, Barry’s tie is often red and sometimes changes colour to red in scenes to show their unison and how well suited to her. The film looks at the alienating environment of a city such as Los Angeles and how bland and homogenous many of its places are. All of the characters flats are under furnished and plain, the furniture is also plain and lacking in colour. Therefore the colour of the leads clothes works as a contrast to their setting.

The physical occurrences of the film often mimic the emotional aspects of the film. For example in one of his fits of rage Barry punches the wall and then there is a clear shot of his broken knuckles which spell out the words LOVEThis small detail is meant to represent how painful the experience of falling and being in love can be. On another scene when Lena answers the phone the light in the phone box switches on, a literal symbol of how she is the light in his life.

On another level the film can be read as a allegorical tale on love and life in a modern city. The opening shot is of a car crash outside Barry Egan’s Office/ Lock Up and a harmonium being dropped out of a taxi by an unknown figure. Some theorists have said that this is meant to symbolise the beginning of Barry’s choices where the harmonium is meant to symbolise the unknown but beautiful whereas the car crash shows his demons coming to head symbolising the city and its scary alienation. The film follows two tracks, the love story with Lena Leonard something unpredictable but potentially beautiful and Barry’s violent rages, issues with sex phone lines and loneliness. Fundamentally the film is a story of how love can overcome everything and help people deal with the loneliness of the city.


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