- Ren O’Hare
The film God Help The Girl follows the musical escapades of three people in the city of Glasgow, two English and one Australian. They struggle with personal issues, which range from eating disorders, to ideas of national identity, and romance. This is all framed by the struggle that young artists face, or all people for that matter, in trying to find an original voice. As one character says: “A man need only write one song that lives in the hearts of the populous… that hit maker must be considered part divine, because the divine spoke through them.” The film is at times, an exploration of faith, though explored in a more pantheistic way, whilst always framed by Christianity. It is based on music by the musician collective God Help The Girl, originally set up by the Scottish group Belle and Sebastian. All the music in it existed before the film, though it was re-recorded with the voices of the cast. Emily Browning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) plays the lead Eve, and Olly Alexander (now better known as the frontman of Years and Years) plays James, a boy who plays music with, and is completely enamoured by, Eve. The trio of voices is rounded out by the younger, and endearing, though slightly grating voice of Cassie, played by Hannah Murray (Skins, Game of Thrones).
I first saw the film in 2014 upon its initial release and its music has followed me in my life since. However, the iconic shot I am focusing on is during the scene where James sings ‘Pretty Eve in the Tub.’ Eve is sad in the bathtub and he wishes to wash her pain away through song. Throughout the film, it is evident that James views Eve in a romanticised way, here playing into the canon that a woman’s pain is somehow desirable to men. At the beginning of the scene, Eve is submerged in the bathtub, the water still on and leaking through the bathroom door. As she brings her head out of the water and asks James what he wants, her state of refuge is interrupted as she is imagined in his head; vibrant, dancing and wearing his clothes. The shot however, is filmed at a vertically moving upward angle, starting in front of her face, switching to pointing above her. Browning herself, has such a striking and interesting look to her, and to a certain degree the narrative plays into James’ idea of her. Though undoubtedly James is a good friend to her, there is more to it that, and those problems are explored through the way this scene is filmed. In this shot Eve is depicted at such a human level, her main point of contention being her relationship with food, having started the film in in-patient care for anorexia and her feeling lost and missing home, among other things. Yet for James, his main point of contention is her. She values him as a friend, but he is an addition to her narrative in this moment, rather than a lasting part of it, as he so wishes her to be.
The colour palette of God Help the Girl is vibrant, the cast wear exciting colours and vintage pieces throughout. This scene relies on yellow tones, which reminds me of the sadness that this happy colour can carry. However, I don’t mean in that certain shades can remind someone of sickliness, but rather the scene is laced with yellowness, the shower curtain, the milkyness of the water, the dusty green bathtub. It exists in the periphery around her. Colour is at her reach, yet she lies underneath it all. When James imagines her in his clothes, she wears all bright yellow, yet he is the one who helps to move her body, a detachment existing even in his mind of what he so wishes her to become.
I will admit that upon rewatching God Help The Girl that some of the filming and transitions are at times messy. In the likes of the song ‘Musician, Please Take Heed’ (my personal favourite), Eve sings of needing emotional reprieve, and wants the music she listens to to take control for her. It is both one of the most endearing and sad moments of the film, blending theatrical moments of unexplained dance, as well as layering images over one another. Yet, the introduction of a new female character, in offering relief through dance, later drugs and arguably through sex, is one where the pacing feels off, and tonally juxtaposes the music. This messiness however, which I can recognise, doesn’t bother me a great deal. Whilst slightly jarring, I can see that the messiness of her mind is trying to be communicated and much like how I feel about Cassie’s voice, there is an odd level of liking to something you don’t wholly love. Which are feelings I have had to grapple with surrounding this film as a whole. When I first watched it, it had such a profound effect on me, that upon rewatching it, I realised it isn’t something I need to the same degree that I did then. I can recognise the problems I have with the film that I didn’t have then. It still remains exquisite musically, having a soundtrack that holds some of my favourite songs ever, as well as some I will never listen to again. Though in regards to my focused shot, I am interested in self-becoming and the contrasting view of what the outsiders have, and I think the scene of ‘Pretty Eve in the Tub’ is one which captures that, for it makes evident that the film has always been Eve’s film, yet more often than not we see her represented through eyes that are not her own. This dynamic is explored between the contrasting image of Eve submerged in the bath, James’ idea of her “pretty in the tub” and him wanting to be somewhere else with her entirely.