A Light in the Darkness: Luce Review

By Peter Pottorff
September 22, 2019

“Luce” is a movie that which is a technically stunning, great work of themes and not for the faint of heart. It tackles the subjects of power and privilege from multiple angles. Yet, the camera by and large stays static emphasizing a sense of focus and of immediate perspective.

Luce from the theatrical trailer (Peter Pottorff)

The story of the movie involves, Luce (pronounced loose) a war orphan from Eretria, adopted by an American couple, who became a star athlete and a skilled orator. Luce’s history teacher, Harriet, calls in his mother after he writes a disturbing essay suggesting that there are times and places when the use of extreme force and ethnic cleansing might be an inevitable part of political conflict. She states that he was planning something after being disturbed by the essay. She searched his locker and found fireworks in there. The other conflict revolves around Luce and a classmate of his DeShaun a star football player.

Through out the story we learn of Luce, Harriet, Luce’s parents and DeShaun’s perspective about what they want and how far they are willing to go in order to achieve their goals.

Harriet uses her privilege to show her power over her students by being able to make or break those who are students in her classes. She takes away DeShaun’s scholarship because she found marijuana in his locker and reported it. Not because she wanted to enforce the rules but, because she wants to be a dictator over her students. Its her defining characteristic, the entire reason why she acts so virtuous is for the sake of making herself more powerful.

Harriet from the theatrical trailer (Peter Pottorff)

Harriet bumps into a problem with Luce because she wants him to succeed according to her values however he is a wild card. Instead of being shaped and molded as she wants, Luce expresses himself and breaks the mold, forcing her to accuse him of misconduct with the fireworks alongside the essay. Harriet goes to extreme lengths including getting her house covered in slurs and trying to get Luce expelled or to be punished by his parents, which does not work in the end.

Luce’s mother Amy goes through an arc of questioning her relationship with Luce and why she chose to adopt him in the first place. Amy represents a nuanced study on the privileged positions those who accrue wealth and power end up with and sometimes there is good mixed in with the bad. She accepts that Luce while not perfect is a good person and her son, not simply a token who is on display in order to show how good she is.

Amy from the theatrical trailer (Peter Pottorff

Luce wants to be his own person and not be ruled by the perceptions that he has been forced to adapt to.. While he is a star athlete and student, Luce is not simply a robot. He has emotions, struggles and frustrations because of his luck. He is under fire from all points and people, no matter who they are during the movie. No one sees him for who he is, an extremely intelligent and kind person who wants to be treated like a normal person. His name, Luce is Latin for light, which is fitting since he shines a light on the true situation and perspectives of the people in his life.

“Luce”, is a movie which is both disturbing and fascinating look at power within the relationships of high school teachers, students and parents.

Professor Usame Tunagur spoke highly of the movie in both its technical and narrative achievements. In particular how steady the camera work is and the themes of power dynamics.

A link to the film’s trailer can be found below.



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Peter Pottorff

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