Andrea Arnold’s first feature length film, Red Road, is a magnetic subversion of the established male gaze. Following Jackie (Katie Dickie) as she tries to avenge the murder of her husband and young daughter, the film unfolds an enigmatic past in a deluge of tension and suspicion.
Set in Glasgow, the infamous Red Road flats (now demolished) cast a shadow over the city. Both literally and figuratively, the lighting throughout Red Road reflects this and sets the scene of isolation and deprivation. When coloured lighting is used, moments of significance or danger are revealed to an audience who are otherwise often kept in the dark.
Working as a security guard, Jackie monitors the lives of her fellow Glaswegians. Sitting in the dark behind large CCTV screens, Arnold creates an Orwellian-esque Glasgow and posits Jackie as the female embodiment of Big Brother. When crimes are committed at the Red Road Flats, it is Jackie who is watching – until she decides to take the law into her own hands.
One of the first ‘crimes’ recorded on Jackie’s CCTV monitor is a sex scene and the viewer and Jackie are complicit in their shared voyeurism. As the film progresses, Jackie’s obsession with the man from this initial scene grows. Jackie’s pursuit of Clyde (Tony Curran) drives the plot of Red Road, and leads her to seduce him. In the film’s next sex scene, the viewer is brought even closer – and more entwined – in Jackie’s web of deceit.
The opening of Arnold’s film firmly establishes Jackie as the controller of the gaze. Red Road examines the extremes of voyeurism which make an uncomfortable but gripping watch. Inner city life is revealed in close-up but an audience is still kept in the dark until Arnold is ready to reveal. With acceptance and revelation comes a change in lighting, and the film progresses to a lighter colour palette.
Arnold is a master of suspense, and Jackie’s position as the active controller of both plot and gaze solidifies Red Road as a unique exploration of female autonomy and vengeance. Red Road delivers a thought-provoking insight into the human psyche, slowly revealing just enough to ensure a viewer relishes their position as voyeur.