Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unlikely Sources of Inspiration: "Eastern Promises"


It's been a while since I did an Unlikely Sources of (style) Inspiration post. In fact, I think the last one, about "The Orphan" was also my first one. I like finding ideas in costumes from films that aren't thought of as "costume films," especially if the outfits say things about each character that you can't necessarily glean from the dialogue.





Directed by David Cronenberg, "Eastern Promises" is about the Russian mafia in London and is known for its infamous naked knife fight scene, which involves Viggo Mortenson's character, Nikolai, and two other gangsters (though, technically, only Mortenson was naked and the knives were linoleum cutters, but I digress). The plot revolves around Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a large London hospital who becomes obsessed with finding the family of a Russian teenager who died giving birth.


Throughout the course of the movie, we find out that Anna is motivated by several highly emotional experiences, including a miscarriage and the recent death of her Russian-born father. Her uncle Stepan spends a lot of time with Anna and her mom and I loved the family's interactions because they reminded me of the dynamics between the first- and second-generation Taiwanese-Americans in the community I grew up in.




When she isn't in hospital scrubs, Anna's wardrobe consists mainly of jeans and heavy knits (the movie takes place entirely between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve) in neutral hues, but they have little details like unusual closures and intricate stitch patterns. Her character is warm, practical, intelligent and hard-headed -- but at the same time very vulnerable. I think those traits are well-represented by her wardrobe.

In several scenes, she wears a motorcycle jacket to ride her father's old motorcycle, which he brought over from Russia. The jacket and helmet serve as a sort of armor, while at the same time tying Anna to her late father and, in turn, her Russian heritage. In fact, all of her jackets and overcoats are black and sharply-tailored, which links her visually to the gangsters, including Nikolai, that she becomes increasingly involved with.



The set detail in the movie is also great. Most of "Eastern Promises" takes place in Anna's mother's apartment, which is filled with the kind of knick-knacks you'd expect to see in a multicultural family's apartment (an embroidered wall hanging contrasts with Laura Ashley-ish curtains and a large collection of porcelain cows in the kitchen) or an upscale Russian restaurant that is a front for Nikolai's gang. The restaurant is grand and decorated in dark colors (pine green, dark varnished wood, crimson) that look festive or ominous depending on the scene.

I highly recommend "Eastern Promises," but it's a very violent film, so don't see it if gore freaks you out!


  1. i love your movie inspiration posts, specifically because they are not about the obvious costume movies. i would've never thought about any david cronenberg movie as outfit inspiration, but i can see what you mean about this one! when you juxtapose the shot of namoi watts holding the baby in her sundress with the shots of her in leather on the motorcycle, it's great! ~joelle

  2. Thanks Joelle! History of Violence is next on my list of DC films to watch. I wonder if there is any style inspiration to be gleaned from that...

  3. I liked this movie too (especially the red-saturated detail shots of the Russian restaurant, and the acting was good) but I was disappointed that it her motivation was motherhood-related. It always turns out that the non-evil, fierce, determined woman in movies are just trying to save their baby.
    At the end, she's shown in a floral dress with the baby in a garden, in contrast to her motorcycle/leather clad look. It was like her tough edge was only for the fight for the baby, and then everything was all right with the world now that she had it and she was back to her appropriately feminine place.

    Two thumbs up for the naked knife fight, though! I didn't even know it was coming.

  4. Mary -- Yes, I was also thinking that in terms of a visual metaphor that was a bit heavy handed, especially since the dress was so different than anything else she'd worn in the movie. I also had no idea that the naked knife fight was coming! There's something to be said for not reading reviews first :-).