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Custom Clothing and Identity in Contemporary Film Essay

Largely, clothes often define mere wrappings that encompass our bodies. However, are clothes really what they have ordinarily been defined on this ordinary level? While in most cases clothing are worn to keep the body warm or for fashion, to a film’s costume designer, cloths carry more than the ordinary meaning. Several questions still emanate; is there any perceivable similarity that various costume designers for movie production consider when designing clothes for varied characters of the film? Is there a relationship between various costumes and related roles played in different films? Is there an arguably authentic explanation that seems to support the specifics of a certain costume? Is it possible to tell the character that an actor is intended to act by merely gawking at the actor while well clothed? Can costumes detail social or institutional status of a character?

Brief overview

The famous saying that the “eye sees only what the mind knows” holds true here. Arguably, film is all about mind game. An actor is a combination of a lot of components: face, voice, stature, and the like. Based on the approach that the learner intends to espouse in the argument, three films that show great similarities in roles, dressing, social institutional status and the state of mind of various actors were top priorities in this selection. The films selected are, “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol”, “Limitless” and “The Hunger Games”. The indisputable associations and similarities in roles and costume selection will be discussed and exposed within the arguments.

Clothes can be used to show the mental/ psychological status of a character

There exists a sharp contrast when you consider the clothes that various characters wear. Clothing also tells about the mental state of a person. For example, considering someone who is depressed, disturbed or mentally retarded, such an individual would not care about what s/he is wearing, whether the clothes are pressed or not and whether he’s wearing the right combination of clothes or not. In the movie ‘Limitless’, Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a person who has a wasted life and no purpose to live. He lives in a trashed up apartment and is annoyed by his chronic failure. He wears dull clothes, without any sense of matching, which are all too ragged to wear even when you are at home. Further on, as the story progresses, Cooper sometimes fails to get the dose of the drug that keeps him happy that makes him to goes back to the scruffy clothing and muddled outfits.

A sharp contrast exists when one considers clothing by a mentally stable person. For example, in the famous movie “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol”, we can see how clothing demonstrates occupation by observing the clothes that Tom Cruise wears all through the film. We see him wearing a suit in the Dubai scene, especially at the ball, which shows how presentable and serious he is. A similar episode can be seen when Cooper has taken the wonder pill and he dresses in high-class and elegance outfit that postulates his state of mind. Therefore, the mental status of a character determines the clothing for most of the time, it is also possible to interpret the other way around by looking at the clothes we can judge the mood of the person.

Similarity in costumes depict similarity in character roles regardless of film

Despite possible objections to this notion, yet the converse applies: clothes can and indeed to depict similarity in characters in various films. Take for example, in the film “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol”, when Cruise is running in the streets of Russia, he wears a hood over his head to cover the sides of his face. It is obvious that he is trying to provide himself a cover, trying to run for his life. A similar occurrence is visible on how clothing represents occupation is seen in the latter part of the Kremlin bomb sequence. When Ethan flees The Kremlin, he reverses his uniform jacket, disguising into a tourist. He is the exact same person but just because he reverses his jacket (changes his clothes), he is not recognized. In short, clothing signifies the activity to be performed in those clothes.

Another supporting incidence is in the film “Limitless” when Eddie discovers about a pill that can transform his mind into a brilliant machine, his life gets purpose, he gets rich, finds back his love, and becomes a very happy man. After taking the pill, he suddenly becomes more aware of his potential and wears more business-oriented wears like tailored suits, buttoned down pinstriped shirts, ties, nice shoes, and looks very bright overall.

Clothes in films indubitably detail social status

It is possible to tell whether the actor is young or old, male or female, black or white by his physical being, but we can also tell other things about the identity of the character he plays such as his job, his mental state and his spending habits by examining his clothes. If we see a man in a hospital under treatment, we can instantly figure out that the actor is a patient when we see a glimpse of his white and/or blue clothes. Similarly, an actor wearing a neat suit or a chic dress is enough to tell that he/she has enough money to spend on clothes. Therefore, clothing in contemporary films is not only apparel to put on body, but it is also the show the actor puts on about his identity. In “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol”, on the scene at the ball, Cruise wears executively depicting a high social class. It is in the same scene where Paula Patton, acting as Jane Carter, steps out from a BMW sports car wearing a green dress. That green ball gown is also a sign of formality.

In the recently released film “The Hunger Games”, this aspect of clothing is very evident. Katniss, the lead role, is from District 12, which is located in the coal-rich region. In that region, clothes people wear are very simple and nobody is concerned about fashion at all. People who live there usually wear the same clothes every day. Their priority is not clothing; they worry more about getting food, which is also very limited so at times they have to go against the laws to search for food. On the other hand, people at the Capitol are rich and do not have to worry about food and shelter. They can buy expensive clothes and most of them are obsessed with fashion. They wear new clothes, bright colors, and designer brands. In most of the scenes, the ladies wear smart dresses and hats, and men wear sporty pants and jackets. Although some of the rich people at the Capitol wear new but decent clothes, some are obsessed with style and fashion.

Rich people are not concerned about food, so they can spend money on clothes, whereas the poor people have to worry about food first. Nevertheless, even among those people who can afford clothes easily, some of them are extravagant, yet others do not care about the price tag at all. For example, the character Effie Trinket’s clothing is a depiction of extreme obsession with fashion; on the other hand, President Snow wears new but decent clothes. This difference in the clothing between the two poles is very evident and hence makes this movie a good example to support the point that clothing represents the economic status and spending habits of people.

Conversely, one may argue that clothes do not represent identity, because people are able to choose what they want to wear, and what they want to be is not the same with who they actually are. “People are able to choose clothing to represent aspects of their identity,” says Danah Boyd from MIT, stating that clothing can also be used to conceal certain aspects of identity. When this is applied to the film industry however, it is ridiculous to argue such a thing because the characters are just creations, and they wear whatever the director wants them to wear.

Costume designers depict the character in the cloth regardless of the wearer

When all costume designers design the clothes, they do not consider the wearer, but the character itself. It is likely for one to think that the costume designers consider personal outlook in terms of physical features like the complexion or relative height, but these are just secondary features. This can be found in the words of Michael Kaplan, a costumes designer in “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol” quoted saying: “When setting out to design a piece of movie clothing, I first must review all the characteristics it must have. Paula’s green gown was no different. The scene where it is worn is a seduction scene so a certain amount of décolleté was necessary. There was also a bit of action and the director wanted to see a lot of leg as Paula steps out of a car. I chose a color that was bright enough to follow Paula’s character around a crowded party, dressing no other extra in that color.” Kaplan also says that he did not go with red for the ball dress because “In the India party scene, many of the servers and butlers traditionally wear red; I didn’t want to fight with that.” Paula, the person, is not a subject of the design but rather an object to depict the intended character.

“Clothes are key elements in the construction of cinematic identities… Costumes propose dynamic links between the character and history, gender, queer theory and psychoanalysis,” says Stella Bruzzi in her book Undressing Cinema. Although not discussed in this essay, clothing may serve as an exhibition of one’s culture, family background or class. However, clothing is not merely apparel covering up the body; it has a specific purpose in which it indicates specific aspects of an actor role.

Code: Sample20

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