This scene from Spike Lee’s 25th hour exemplifies an instance in film where lighting is used to its maximum affect. The young girl, a student out late at a night club on a school night, high on extacy and champagne, runs into her English teacher in the VIP section. The teacher is both overcome by sexual feelings for his young student, and fully aware of the possible consequences of acting on this impulse. He eventually succumbs to his desire, but regrets his decision immediately afterwards.
The lighting design, I think, is incredibly beautiful and effective in this scene to evoke specific responses in the viewer. The setting of the nightclub gives the director a great creative license to use bold, monochromatic colors in lighting, which may be atmospheric, but also provide subtext for the tension in the scene. We begin the scene by seeing the girl, seemingly floating on air and orgasmically content. She is lit to appear golden, her skin looks flawless, glistening and vivacious; irresistible. He is poorly lit, asleep in the corner, almost in shadow. When she approaches him, she is moved into a sharp, blue light. This change signifies to the viewer a change in the dynamic between these characters – that perhaps she could be trouble.
Next, we follow her upstairs, ascending to the upper level bathroom terrace. When we pan back, the teacher is on his feet, at the brink of “no turning back.” He walks up the dimly lit stairs in shame, hiding from passersby. When he enters the bathroom, the light is a bold red. This claustrophobic space forces the characters closely together. The red color can be read as the color of lust, fitting for the scene when where he cannot escape his overpowering compulsion to act upon his desire.
Finally in the scene, the male character cast away, feeling immense shame and regret. This visual resembles the floating sequence of the first shot. The lighting is a similar color, but less flattering. The actor is frozen, as if helpless and not in control, as he glides along. All in all, wonderful scene, great diversity in tension, accentuated by bold lighting choices, and a great sense of progression without the use of much dialogue. Bravo Spike!