Retrospective: Purple Rain

by Emma Horn

Prince… The Artist Formerly known as Prince…  or unpronounceable symbol.

Since his death, there have been countless articles written about his music, his spirituality and his legacy.  For this author and many others, the way that we grieved his death was to experience once again Prince as on the big screen by watching Purple Rain, singing and dancing and crying our way thru the movie.  There is just something about this movie, whether you are a Prince fan or not.  Something about this movie still packs theaters, even 30 years after its release date.  While the fact that the main character is Prince has a huge amount to do with its popularity, there is something else to it-balance. There is a balance to this movie that sets it apart from other rock and roll movie out there.  

If you haven’t the movie or haven’t seen it in a long time, you might think this is a little bit crazy.  Between the opening scene of The Revolution jamming out to a packed night club or Morris Day playing “Jungle Love” while the whole club does this ridiculously choreographed dance, many of the scenes from this movie portray the over the top nature and a bit ridiculous of the eighties.  Apollonia’s character moves quickly from being a nobody to being the lead singer of a band who performs in front a pack nightclub while wearing lingerie and a cape.  There is Prince, called “The Kid” in all his glory, performing over the top sexual dances while performing songs such as “Darling Nikki”.  This movie is so clearly set in its context, and makes no attempt to hide this over the top decadent ridiculous nature of the eighties.  And yet….

And yet there is balance to this movie. Almost every scene that is so ridiculously 1980s is countered with something that is real, down to earth, timeless, and painful at times, being in relationships with other people. The interactions between the characters at times seem like something that almost anyone could have with their friends.   There is jealous relationship present between “The Kid” and the other members of The Revolution because “The Kid” wouldn’t play songs the other members of the bad wrote. When Jerome and Morris argue about “what” being the password, it reminds this author of those silly discussions she has had with her friends.  And who hasn’t been in those awkward moments of flirtation in a new relationship, trying to figure out what to say and do like “The Kid” and Apollonia have at their first interaction?  There are ugly and painful relationships in this movie as well. Within the first fifteen minutes or so, there is a contrast set up between the performances that “The Kid” gives and the painful situations he faces at home, with a verbally and physically abusive father.  We see him struggle with trying to balance his identity between being like his father and finding his own identity as a person and as a music.  

The interplay and balance between 1980s decadence and the timeless nature of negotiating and being in relationships as a human being is what makes this movie so compelling.  The ultimate expression of these two ideas is this beautiful and heart breaking and wonderful moment when “The Kid” sings “Purple Rain” for the first time, letting the members of the band play the accompaniment they wrote, acknowledging the painful relationship with his father as well as the relationship with  Apollonia.  Have tissues on the ready.  That moment will make you feel things.   

Overall, this movie is worth a rewatch.  It is the perfect way to remember this amazing artist. A word of warning though. If you are introducing your children to Prince, this may not be the way to do it.  It has way more over the top moments of sexuality, foul language and intense scenes of verbal and physical abuse than you probably remember.  

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