Let’s Talk Aesthetic – Jessica Jones

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Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about aesthetic. Almost always, I’m thinking and reading about various superhero shows/movies coming out or already existing. The more I dive into the superhero genre, the more I notice how these on screen adaptations represent themselves to the public. DC strives for a gritty realism while also becoming entangled with philosophical material. Meanwhile Marvel steers into a brighter appearance and relies on a good dosage of humor.

Then of course the TV series for both franchises go on their own paths. Agent Carter seeks out a vintage style, Supergirl is a little more bubblegum, and Daredevil places itself in the shadows to illustrate the dirtiness of Hell’s Kitchen. Then there comes along Jessica Jones which I think has the most unique style because it incorporates the above aesthetics while also molding itself into something new while still having an air of familiarity.

One of the most evident elements in the Jessica Jones aesthetic is the noir theme. This captures that vintage style which has been finding its way into more pop culture. People like the look of older times while not always wanting to be there. Think of the 1950s ideal where people look at photographs of girls in big skirts and sweaters sipping a milkshake at the diner with their main squeeze. Those people want to go back there, but they don’t want the values and mindset of the 50’s – just the look.

Jessica Jones answers that need by placing a modern story with modern ideals on a stage with vintage decorations. She is the classic detective sitting in a dank office waiting for a case to walk in. The office itself is set up like one you’d see in an old noir film, but it still manages to stay within its time while replicating the style elements people yearn for. It’s the single desk in front of a window, dim lighting (possibly to capture that black & white feel), the straight man delivery of lines, and the typical customers one might see strolling in. Only this time the detective is a woman who also saves the day as a hero (though she wouldn’t want to be called that). This series mirrors that past aesthetic, but it doesn’t forget what and where it is. That’s partly why I was drawn to the series.

Another aesthetic this show uses is the grittiness that DC has been experimenting with. The show is dark both in manner and appearance. Hell’s Kitchen is a dirty, run down place with little sun and often seems cold judging by the heavy jackets the characters wear.Yet somehow the show never feels dark or lost in the shadows. There’s actually quite a bit of color popping onto the screen, most noticeably with purple. Even in the darkest moments of the show, there’s one vivid color standing out. This could represent a ray of light/hope in the worst times or even present a warning of danger (after all, Killgrave is the man in purple).

It’s refreshing to see how they take the gritty aesthetic and add in a splash of color. Just take a look at the poster for the series – it’s on a darker pallet, but the pallet still exists. It finds color in the shadows and satirizes those shades to make it stand out. The series never felt to me like the characters were trapped in a dark room – there was plenty of room to breath in the noir feel and bring it into day’s world.

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What’s in a Backstory?

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The type of character background you’re given in a story depends on the story being told. In Lost each character has their own past which is seen in glimpses over the course of six seasons, but it takes much longer to learn the full story for a few while others can be told in one or two episodes. Also, some characters have their backstory presented early on while others remain a mystery for a better part of the season or series.

Sometimes the technique works because there are characters who are defined by where they come from and the audience needs to see this before they can move forward and feel attached to them. While this method doesn’t ruin a story, I think it does have the potential to weaken it.

Then we have characters like Ben Linus who’s backstory takes time to get to which works perfectly for him. Mainly because we’re first made to believe he’s a different person, but also because Ben is a character defined by what is currently happening on screen. All the audience and the other characters need to know is what’s given by the way he acts and the small details presented of his past. A lavish backstory isn’t necessary with Ben just yet.

When his backstory is given, it feels earned and comes at a point when he’s going through some major character development. It flows more smoothly to have this reflection on where he started even before he was introduced. Even if Ben’s story was never given, the audience still has a clear idea of who he is and where he’s coming from based on dialogue, facial cues, and basic actions or reactions. His development is all done within the now and I believe that’s how it should be.

You should feel like you’re on this journey with the character and not as though you missed it all and need a recap before jumping into a new story arch. A backstory should feel like a bonus to see more of this character and explore their personality and not be the only thing holding this character up and giving them a sense of worth or personality.

When some people watch a movie, I think they expect this fancy and detailed backstory for each main player and then feel disappointed when it isn’t given to them. To see where a character began their journey in a flashback and compare it to where they are before the credits roll presents a shortcut to character development. Instead of letting the character be looked at the way they progressed purely in the main story, they’re being judged on how they developed off screen.

Once in a while the backstory is needed immediately depending on the technique the writer is choosing to use, but in Lost I felt more attached to the characters who had their backgrounds given later on. This was because I got to know them as who they were based on their general behavior and not from what brought them to this point or influenced them aside from small hints here and there.

I do love a strong backstory, but I think they need to be waited on. If one is elaborate enough it should either be the story itself or it should be given near the end of the arch as a treat for staying with this character for so long. To understand the character as is makes the backstory all the more interesting to watch. Otherwise it feels like a long prologue that most would rather skip to get to the main plot.