At the surface level, Wendy and Lucy is a story about a young woman and the struggles she faces as she attempts to find her lost canine companion on limited funds as she travels through a run-down Oregonian town. The setting of the story is confined to only a couple of days, and little to no background information is revealed about the titular character, Wendy, throughout the narrative”but through her struggles, and the way in which they are portrayed, the film paints a careful portrait both of the reality of people living on a budget with absolutely no room for error and of the mundane nature of life in small, forgotten towns.
By Hollywood standards, little happens in the film’s 80-minute run: Wendy and Lucy pass through Oregon on their way to Alaska in hopes of a job–with benefits–at a cannery, Wendy’s old, depleted car breaks down after miles of wear and tear on the drive from Indiana, Wendy is caught stealing food for Lucy, Wendy goes to jail for shoplifting, Lucy goes missing, and Wendy attempts to find her lost companion with no cash, no cellphone, and no clue where to begin. Through the intentionally quiet and stark nature of the narrative, co-Screenwriter and director Kelly Reichardt avoids explicitly revealing the film’s key themes through narrative and rather employs lighting and contrast, characterization, and cinematography to subtly reveal details of Wendy’s story, and the larger tale of poverty at play through a deeply realist lens.
As a whole, the film’s overarching themes are achieved both through the consistent and general use of mise en scene and cinematography throughout the duration of the film as well as through deliberate constructions and manipulations of these elements in specific scenes. As Film Art emphasizes, perhaps no component of mise-en-scene is more critical to the essence of a film than, as phrased by Sternberg, the adventure of drama and light. (Film Art, page. 131) Wendy and Lucy follows that rule; through low-contrast, muted blue tones, the film’s lighting and color heavily influences how the reader perceives the film’s narrative.
The high-key lighting employed in the outdoor daytime scenes”which make up a majority of the film”eliminates contrast and leads to a dull, flattened appearance that highlights Wendy’s muted,
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