If only Irene had stayed true to this decision, then the more unfortunate events that unfold throughout the movie wouldn’t have occurred. However, it’s the renewed friendship that Clare and Irene share that is a treasure trove of nuanced statements about race, class, gender, and more. Irene’s husband, Brian (Andre Holland), is a doctor, and the Redfield’s live a very charmed life in their Harlem brownstone. Despite being black, which has always been difficult in America, particularly at the time in history which Passing takes place.
Harlem creates a bubble of comfort for black people, and Irene feels good in her life and tries not to impress upon her children the grim realities that black people in other parts of the country are facing. Brian disagrees and feels that the children should know about all the lynchings and other horrible things that black Americans suffer. Irene’s facade of normalcy begins to crack all the more the longer Clare is present in her life. In fact, she is becoming a little too familiar with everyone in Irene’s life, including Brian.
“…the cast is all incredible, particularly Thompson and Negga.”
I won’t dig any more into the plot, but I will say that Passing is a gorgeous film. Shot in black and white in a 4:3 aspect ratio, it is evocative of classic motion pictures of the era. The director has mentioned Notorious and Night of the Hunter as visual influences. The costumes from designer Marci Rodgers are marvelous reproductions of roaring ’20s regalia. The score is incredible jazz-age bliss. As I already mentioned, the cast is all incredible, particularly Thompson and Negga. However, even though the men have a little less screen time, they still shine just as bright, particularly Holland.
Essentially, Hall has crafted a masterpiece of nostalgic filmmaking. I have to tell you, Passing is quiet, and some people might not be able to deal with that. Its backbone is in the stories it tells through nuance and silence. However, the ending shakes the whole thing like a speakeasy martini, and it is worth watching for the last five minutes alone. The finale of the novel has been hotly debated since its release, and I imagine the ending of the movie will be as well. You aren’t told exactly what happens, but you will be guessing long after the credits roll. So, check out the film to see what I’m talking about. I doubt that you will regret it.
Passing premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…evocative of classic motion pictures of the era."