Drive Color

How a Movie Uses Color Themes | CDRogowski

Color themes in a movie

This is an interesting subject and tool used in films that I have only now realized. Directors have been using it to manipulate my emotions and tie clues together for me for years, right under my nose! If colors are not something you have noticed in films before, after reading this I’m sure you will look for it every time you sit in front of the screen (at least I have been).

I first noticed the use of color theme only because I saw a film which nearly beats you over the head with it:  Drive. I actually really like Drive, and although the color use is very prominent, it does not seem too overbearing and really adds to the feel and mood of the film. Also, if you are paying attention, you can learn a lot about the characters and their motives by looking at their clothes, their environment and background which they are shot against, and the hue of the lighting in their scenes. Drive uses different shades of orange and blue throughout the movie to convey when things are good or bad, people who are open or closed off, and whether the next thing to happen on screen is progress for the hero or the villain.

Blue and orange use shown in drive

Once I had this breakthrough in my film-watching belt, I began looking for color themes everywhere and making a conscious effort to better understand the story through its use. I am amazed by how all the great filmmakers use color as subtle cues that guide the viewer through the story. As I first discovered this part of film during Drive, I decided to take a look at another Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives.

Use of pink and blue in Only God Forgives

Like Drive, Only God Forgives uses color to convey a lot of messages about the mood, atmosphere, characters, and intentions. If Drive was heavy handed on the use of color, Only God Forgives is like getting hit in the face with a wrecking ball. The overwhelming use of pinks, blues, and orange makes the movie difficult to watch, even straining my eyes at times. It seems that the movie was made only to give that same epiphany about theme to the audience which I had while viewing Drive.

The use of color in film is something that I have always struggled with as a filmmaker and I think it is because when I try to use a theme I go overboard (like Only God Forgives) but I know that improving this one part of visual storytelling will have a massive impact on my future films.


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