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Film Review: “Luce” (2019) ★★★★★


What is the right way to parent a child? What should we do when we adopt a seven-year-old boy from a country that’s torn in war? A boy who has seen enough blood and death to the point of almost getting used to it? How about stereotypes? Who is bad and who is good? Who should be treated better and who should not? What should be a teacher’s reaction when he or she realizes that the most famous student in the school has dark ideas in his mind? Based on the most provocative play by J.C. Lee with the screenplay co-written by J.C. Lee and Julius Onah, and directed by Julius Onah himself, “Luce” is a psychological thriller that one shouldn’t think twice to make the decision to watch it as soon as it’s out in theaters.

Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), the titular character, is a young, handsome, intelligent, and popular kid in his school. Teachers admire him, put him on a pedestal whereas students look up to him as someone with a bright future. His parents, Amy (Naomi Watts) and Peter Edgar (Tim Roth), have done everything to look after their adopted sweet boy Luce from Eritrea. Now, they could not be any more proud of him. However, nothing is as easy and transparent when Luce’s teacher, Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer), reads his essay, and shortly after, finds dangerous fireworks in his school locker. She did the right thing by raising a concern with his parents, hoping whatever it is can be solved quickly. But instead, it goes further, creating a psychological game between Luce and his intentions which will take a lot more than just thinking to figure him out.

Harriet, who is an African American teacher, assigns an essay to the entire class. Luce, who we find too concentrated, writes one using a book written by a controversial historical figure, Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth), who would easily justify the importance of violence to prove a point. Luce, who we can only assume believes in what he wrote, scares his teacher. What she does next was the right thing by talking to his mother, Amy. When Amy was fully armed with enough confidence to support his son, Harriet shares another disturbing news that was related to her findings in Luce’s locker. Both Amy and Edgar are in disbelief. They can’t believe what Harriet said about their dear son. As they hide Luce’s essay and the fireworks, they try to find an approach to talk to Luce, not realizing whatever they do, he’s always one step ahead of them.

Luce is that sort of a character who is hard to tell on what side he belongs – good or bad. As his manipulative actions continue, we learn about the event that unfolds a backstory between Luce and Harriet, and where that tension between them came from. Even though she is not the one to be blamed, Luce has already made up his mind about her, what he must do, when, and how. In the meantime, Luce is clearly concerned about being considered as a poster boy, a man who should be used as a role model. He clearly does not know who he should be –  saint or evil. He also reveals that he dislikes double standards. Even though he is from a very successful family with supporting parents, there’s still insecurity noticed in him. He, apart from being full of vendetta, does not realize the problem is not his teacher or people around him, but the society that is built in such a way that he will never stop seeing himself in the minority when he literally is not.

There’s a lot to talk about “Luce”. It’s one of the most shocking films so far this year. The performances are so good that it will require multiple viewings to enjoy every minute of it. As for the concept, there is a lot to grasp, a lot to miss, and many more details that can be uncovered after viewing it five or six times. It’s a living example of how films should be made, how thoughts should be expressed, and why 911 should have been dialed in the first place when the parents realized that the Luce they raised is not who they think he is. It is sad and heartbreaking but that is what “Luce” is all about.

To conclude, there are literally only a few films that leave no easy answer. Whatever you do, no matter what ideas or suggestions come to your mind, nothing will be comforting enough because the truth is ugly, real, and painful. And to talk about it openly is like putting yourself at risk of being accused of biasness, closed-minded, and unwise. “Luce” is exquisite, brilliant, thought-provoking, sharp as a knife, haunting, and it hits where it hurts most. But that is the beauty of the film, when one piece can turn everything upside down, leaving its audience shaking long after the closing credits have rolled. As for Luce, his story does not end with the film, in fact, it starts when it’s over, the continuation of it, honestly speaking, is too scary to even know.

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