Julia Hart’s Fast Color follows a mysterious woman Ruth, with malfunctioning superpowers who’s being chased by a scientist to perform experiments on. She runs home where we learn her mother stays with Ruth’s daughter after the latter was endangered by Ruth’s malfunctioning powers. They try to figure things out so Ruth can finally be home, while the cops and the scientist work together to hunt her down.
Superpowers. They’ve been the subject of fascination for so long now, no one can even remember a world before Superman or Spiderman. Be it kids running to bookstores for their favourite comic books, or young adults doing cosplay, the fascination with superheroes and superpowers is trans-generational. And of course it is so, because they’re based on the need to overcome some very obvious inconveniences of our daily lives as human beings. The ability to fly, to be strong enough to move things without tools, to have night vision, to move fast, to teleport from place to place, it’s all born of need, like any invention. Interestingly, the superpower in Fast Color doesn’t seem to serve any such intrinsic purpose. It’s more a fascinating parlor trick than anything else. And interestingly enough, there’s no explanation, like Peter Parker’s radioactive spider or Flash’s lightning strike. This is possibly because the powers here serve as a metaphor for something more human, some emotional need.
The film never really tries to go into the science of these powers, which for that matter, make for amazing visuals, and I think it’s interesting because it doesn’t even seem to offer up the metaphor for the viewers to latch on to. While this makes the experience more personable, because each viewer can project their own insecurities onto the apparent lack this power seemingly helps conquer, it leaves too much unsaid to truly articulate the experience. I was quite frankly just baffled by the tightness of the plot, and mesmerized by the visuals of when the power is used, to become that critical in the moment, but it wasn’t until the very end that I found my reason to never forget the film. It was Ruth’s reason for not being able to control the power which made the most sense to me when it was finally revealed.
Actually, the fact that there’s something going on underneath her apparently adaptive rough exterior, is very clear thanks to Gugu Mbatha Raw’s amazing performance. However, what it is that happened to make her the way she is, is never explained and even in the climax, there’s just one line about her dysfunction. It’s never explained what about her was different that allowed for the difference in her power from her mother, and even her daughter. I think it’s a sense of not belonging which fueled her all the time because she was clearly different, but it’s possibly the other way around, and it’s like she was meant for a life of greater dimensions, which is why the different, more capable powers. This is possibly a metaphor for destiny. That feeling in your gut which tells you that there’s something out there you should look for and make your own is what the power represents, in my opinion.
For a film whose accessibility is almost entirely dependent on the ability to trigger emotional responses, it’s fast. The plot is very tightly designed to make the point the creator wants to, and then leave the audience with an aftertaste of rumination or irritation, depending on whether they connected or not. There is one slow segment where Ruth bonds with her mother over the latter’s stories about growing up and getting pregnant with Ruth. However, the story is basically a thriller and the thrill never stops. In fact, I think it’s because there’s this constant fear which fuels a survival instinct everyone can relate to, which makes this style of storytelling appropriate for the film, even if its hook is entirely emotional, and relies on being able to convey a lot through moments instead of words.
The moments are fleeting, and thus impactful, because like in real life, they pass soon, so you learn to savour them before the next plot twist, and soon enough you could get completely captivated, especially if you can relate to the theme of unfulfilled desires. The dysfunction of her superior powers is possibly the most cathartic element of the story. It might even serve as a metaphor for being differently-abled. Many people aren’t able to reconcile being born different, and Ruth’s struggle is an acknowledgment of the difficulty to accept that even if they’re different, they can function within their own realms. Of course the metaphor doesn’t hold up when you take into consideration that she’s shown to be more powerful, but we know of autistic people, for example, who’ve achieved more than the average neurotypical individual can. Either way, I think her dysfunction being triggered once her powers couldn’t be understood, and she tried using them in certain ways previously considered correct, serves as a powerful reflection on the impacts of repressing one’s truth out of societal pressure.
Beyond this awareness regarding mental health, there’s also representation in the film. It does seem to be coincidental, but only one family’s shown to have the power, and they’re black. Whether this is correct or inappropriate representation, is possibly not a question one should be asking about the film, because the powers do not seem to be racially motivated. Nonetheless, later on, there’s an acknowledgment that the powers can be weaponized if the need arises, and this might be hinting at awareness about the general lack of safety for middle or lower-class people of color. The fact that a benevolent ability that is more fascinating than anything can turn into a weapon when unnecessarily confronted, is a pretty good metaphor for the way the media tries to spin stories of police brutality on the black community. It’s always shown as an act of self-defense from the perpetrator’s side.
I had to write one paragraph at least, about why the ending makes the film unforgettable personally. It is revealed in the ending that after recalling her traumatic experience after birth and reconciling the fact that it wasn’t her fault that she had to abandon her child for her safety, Ruth’s powers come under her control. This could seem anti-climactic to a number of viewers, but it left a mark on me. Repressed memories are often a way we cope with life especially because it seems like forgetting or pretending like it ever happened is the only way we may live with ourselves after a particularly traumatizing experience. And the conclusion to Ruth’s arc, that all it took was accepting her truth and reliving her past with the newfound fondness for herself which has replaced her past self-hatred, basically alludes to how stuck we get with trauma, and how the only way forward is to confront oneself and one’s past. It moved me to tears, as I wasn’t really expecting such a beautiful humane conclusion.