Progression of Look in Transamerica

            A character’s evolution over the course of a film is often representatively demonstrated through hair, wardrobe, and makeup.  The changes that we see in these elements of Bree’s character as the film progresses indicate a progressive internal shift as she moves closer to her true self.

The first time that we see Bree, we first see her disembodied — we see her mouth, her legs, her breasts, but all separately, and eventually, her body is nearly completely shrouded in pale pink clothes.  The first time we can fully see her face is in the doctor’s office; her bangs are thin and wispy across her face, and the supposedly feminine pink of her clothes seems to clash with her skin tone, and makes her seem washed out.  Her face also shines like she’s sweating or her skin is just very greasy, and her turtleneck paired with a skirt seems to imply that the turtleneck is not for warmth, but for hiding under.  As the film progresses, we see each of these elements transform with Bree’s inner transformation.  It is not difficult to sense Bree’s discomfort at the beginning of the film — not discomfort with what she feels is her identity, but discomfort with how she feels other people will perceive it.  The sunglasses, hat, and turtleneck all seem to indicate a degree of hiding due to a fear of judgment.  If we look at the midpoint and the end of the film, we can see a shift.  The midpoint shift is more subtle, but when Bree arrives at her parents house, the colors of her clothing are more intense, her bangs are fuller, and she even wears a bit of a V-neck as she sits outside with her son.  The most noticeable change, as we may expect, comes at the end of the film, after her surgery.

In the final scene of the film, when Bree’s son shows up at her house, we see a more confident and settled Bree, quietly indicated by her clothing.  Bree wears pink, like the first scene of the film, but this outfit is very different.  Compared to the boxy pale pink outfit from the beginning, this pink is vibrant, and accentuates Bree’s feminine form.  It is sleeveless and fitted around the breasts, and as opposed to the earlier turtleneck, it is a V neck, exposing part of her chest.  The colors in the room are warm, which give Bree’s skin a healthy glow, as compared to the pallid shine from the first scene.  While it may seem that Bree is trying to conform to the gender expectations for women, I would instead argue that she now feels more comfortable with herself and her body, and wants to accentuate it and show it off.

It is valuable to note that her nails are painted in the exact same pink from the very first scene of the film, which may seem like an inconsequential detail, but I think it is very representative of the message of the film; even though Bree has undergone so many changes, the core of who she is remains the same – Bree says several times with her mother that she has long felt like a woman.  Though there may be other problematic areas of the film, the external representation of the internal (and partially external) shift that is happening in Bree is handled well and relatively subtly, so that it visually reinforces the theme of the transition through the spectrum of gender identity in the film.

It is important to note that many of the external ways in which Bree changes over the course of the film work to bring her towards a fairly stereotypical representation of what it means to be a woman.  Though the change that happens in Bree is much deeper than surface level, many of the changes that happen in the film (which I have discussed above) do not seem to be the choice of a distinct individual, but a sort of mimicry of what the average or stereotypical female is like.  The overwhelming use of pink motifs in the film, as well as the tighter clothing, speak to stereotypical and often untrue common perceptions about women.  What makes a woman ‘womanly’ differs from woman to woman, and I think the film does the conversation on gender norms a disservice by sticking to such stereotypical representations.  On the converse, the film could be calling out that these are stereotypes, and that Bree imitates them because they are largely identified with being a woman — but then the emphasis would be on the public perception of Bree, and not the satisfaction of her internal desires.  I would prefer that the film catered to the non-stereotypical, more individualized conception of femininity.


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