Much can be said about the symbols in SING STREET (2016). It talks about barriers, breaking barriers, stepping out, stepping up, and finding the freedom from everything that holds our own discontented lives.
The film follows Connor (played wonderfully by Irish singer-actor Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who had just moved from an Ivy League to a free-state school in Dublin Ireland. It is the 80s and there’s a recession, that even well-to-do families have started considering cutting off their expenses. He gets bullied, ridiculed for his well-off past and felt so out of placed in this new environment of men. And even the school headmaster, Brother Baxter (played by Don Wycherley), isn’t doing any help.
And then he meets Darren, an aspiring young business man. In this scene, the two walks outside the school, and Connor sees a girl standing just across the street from the school’s main entrance. Out of curiosity, he walks up. Approaches the girl and tries to start a conversation.
In this scene, we see various symbols in its mise en scene. The use of a tight frame establishes quite a compelling focus on the character’s personalities, their nervousness, their feelings. It even catches Raphina’s initial disinterest and Connor’s growing curiosity.
Raphina’s costume, which obviously was taken from 80s voracious vive seemingly presents a cradling rebellion, a disarming past. If you have seen the movie, going back to this scene makes you realize that this get up simply is a mask to cover the sad, dilapidated soul that she has inside. In reality, she is a quiet, and a silently dreamy girl who can’t wait to escape a horrible past.
And the wish to escape is used rather symbolically in this scene, and in the other scenes too. The black steel railings, the pointed ends in the characters’ backgrounds represent their imprisoned state. You will always see these railings scattered in most of the scenes in the movie. I’m sure that this was done intentionally to establish the guarded system. The claustrophobic system where almost everyone wants to go out. Connor is trapped in his home, blindly obedient to his family’s plans to move, to shift, to separate and to stay. He is trapped in a new school, where he obviously doesn’t want to be in. Trapped amidst the bullies and the religious authority.
Like Connor, we soon learn that Raphina is also trapped and the plan to escape to London is at the works.
That is why we see the railings. The railings in the setting provide gripping representation of where they are: a jail of a society.
On another note, the composition of the shots are quite telling of how each sees the other. Raphina’s frame is from the pavement while Connor’s is from Raphina’s back – looking down at Connor. Through this composition, we see Raphina’s initial disinterest. She doesn’t have to the time to talk to a kid younger than her. This kid is someone who will not be useful, who will only be a hindrance to her dream.
But Connor looks up at Raphina. She is the flower in a garden of vicious thorns. He looks up at her charm, her wonderful presence, and evokes a lie that will change how he sees life as the story develops.
And as Connor’s song goes:
“Across the street on a grayed out Monday,
I see the girl with eyes I can’t describe.
And suddenly it’s a perfect Sunday,
And everything is more than real life.”