Some gift-to-mankind of an anon recommended a movie called The Color Wheel a few weeks back. I followed up on the recommendation a day or two later – hoping to like it, of course, but without terribly high expectations. Well, to say I loved it is a comical understatement. I’ve watched it about eight times – I’ve lost count, to tell the truth, and it’ll be a bigger number soon enough – and it has become one of my favorite movies ever.
The Color Wheel is an indie comedy from 2011 filmed in a nostalgic black and white style about two siblings – J.R. and her younger brother Colin – whose lives are one big failure, and who can’t stand each other about as much as no one else can stand either of them. After J.R.’s boyfriend/former professor kicks her out, she asks Colin to go on a short road trip with her to help her move her things. They’re forced to confront the bad decisions that they’ve made, the reality of where they’re at in their lives, and the fact that maybe they actually get along pretty well.
A LITTLE TOO WELL.
*cough incest cough*
This movie is the whole package. As I lay out in this post, it fulfills every criteria one could possibly hope to find in their dream incest movie.
I had a request for a breakdown of the scene that leads up to the climax of the movie – namely the consummation of J.R. and Colin’s growing incestuous attraction. So I’ve written it up and I’m publishing it on here since it’s a little lengthy. This is not an analysis of the entire film, just of that one scene. Without the context of the rest of the movie, it’s not going to mean very much. I wholeheartedly recommend this movie to everyone interested in canon incest, so I very much encourage you to watch it.
I wrote this post right after I watched it for the first time and it offers some more non-spoilery details about what to expect from the movie. For those of you who have seen it, this is my tag for commentary of Colin and J.R.’s relationship, and there are a handful of posts in the tag that discuss other parts of the movie (some of them somewhat in depth) in addition to the scene I’m going to analyze below. So even though this post only deals with one scene, there is plenty of other commentary about J.R. to be found on the tumblr.
“Sounds like your kind of guy”:I was deeply flattered and more than happy to oblige the lovely anon who requested a breakdown of the scene leading up to JR and Colin’s epically epic make out session. I wouldn’t normally feel the need to write any commentary on a pairing that ends up together and so clearly needed to, but The Color Wheel is sometimes so delightfully subtle and with a great movie and a great pairing like this, there’s nothing more fun than teasing out some of the indicators and details from their journey of coming together. The Color Wheel is perfection, if I haven’t made that clear yet, and since my idea of perfection involves a long, winding road, that means there’s plenty to analyze along the way.
The scene opens on JR reading a book: Astrology and Sexual Analysis. I don’t suppose it’s entirely coincidental that she’s reading something that has to do with sex. I would imagine a book like this talks about how different signs express themselves sexually and which signs are compatible sexually, etc. After her catastrophic encounter with the Professor earlier that day, it’s not surprising she’s turning to the stars to tell her how to do better next time, or to explain what went wrong. It’s unclear exactly what JR’s beliefs are, but she’s clearly interested in spiritual matters. Here she is reading this astrology book, the night before she was reading the Bible at the motel (which she took with her), she has a Star of David hanging from her rear view mirror, and then there’s her crush on Moses, of course.
Colin strikes me as the complete opposite. He’s skeptical of her vision board, and I imagine he’s even more skeptical of astrology. Now, of course JR could have just been the reading the book for kicks – I totally would have – but I imagine her as the type who would buy into it. I like that scene starts right off by quietly reminding us how different they are.
JR has chosen a place to sleep at the cabin – it seems to be a family room or a parlor – it’s not a bedroom. Colin knocks and JR tells him that he doesn’t have to knock because it’s only the two of them.
Okay… BROTHERS AND SISTERS SHOULD KNOCK.
The crazy part isn’t that she says that, it’s that Colin then apologizes for knocking. Who is this person? What has he done with Colin? Can you conceive of this exchange having happened towards the beginning of the film? I’ll just tell you: no you can’t. JR would have called him ridiculous for knocking, and Colin would have given a 10 minute speech about why it’s important to knock, which JR would have attempted to derail several times by doing an impersonation of him.
They’ve come so far!
Colin sits on the couch, and JR moves her legs to make room for him after he gestures for her to move them.This isn’t that special, but there are plenty of other places where he might have sat down – including some benches you can see behind the couch – and he also doesn’t even sit at the end of the couch. He sits pretty much right up against her.
They do have a little squabble over Colin’s phrasing of “Can I put something to you?” which is reminiscent of their earlier bickering. It makes me nostalgic for the times when they fought over every little thing. I think Colin accidentally used an awkward expression because he felt uncomfortable/nervous about what he was going to say. And JR is like, “Just say what you mean.” And if things hadn’t unfolded exactly the way they did, I could easily imagine them having an echo of this argument in place of kissing, with Colin trying to broach the subject but not knowing how to, and JR not having the patience for games or circumventing the issue.
JR attacking him for his word choice gives Colin second thoughts about asking her what he was going to ask her. I think it’s one part timidity and one part petulance. He avenges himself on JR by forcing her to coax the question out of him, which she does, with just a hint of apology in her tone and enough dutiful curiosity that he eagerly moves forward.
Colin wants to know if JR views him as being the same as the despicable people that were at the party. As he opens himself up more and more and explains that he couldn’t stand to have her look at him with the same kind of hatred as she did the people at the party, and reveals that despite the fact that he eviscerated her at the diner after she called his life pathetic that in fact he had been deeply affected/troubled by what she said, JR becomes more and more determined to reassure him that he’s nothing like those people.
And notice how she bumps her knees against him playfully. They’re so comfortable with each other at this point, except for the sexual tension, of course, which is a form of discomfort but doesn’t neutralize the intimacy they’ve found.
The beginning part of this discussion is the perfect parallel of their discussion at the diner. At the diner they were hardlined in their own positions, and here they’re meeting in the middle. JR is admitting that the idea of an unpredictable life is overrated and there’s something to be said for being secure and stable, and Colin admits that he fears he’s made the wrong choices and that his life is lost.
What I love most is that Colin makes this very much about JR’s opinion of him. He wouldn’t want JR to look at him like that. He wouldn’t want JR to have that kind of contempt for him. She’s his big sister. She’s made mistakes but he cares what she thinks about him more than ever. After this weekend together, even though she’s got a “shambled life”, he cares what she thinks of him.
And JR keeps setting her and Colin apart from everyone else – “those people are fails”, “those people are losers”, “they’re normal”, “we’re special”. For her, whatever Colin does, he’s exempt from that judgment from her. Even though she attacks him with those accusations earlier (which was just a defense mechanism because he was attacking her, and furthermore, she was only saying those things because she wanted something better for him), once they have a real moment where they’re honest with each other, all she wants to do is reassure him that he’s fine.
They start talking about Kim Thompson and relax into a more comfortable conversation. Even though JR was rooting for Colin to get some “slutty time” with Kim Thompson, she’s put-off right from the start when it actually happens. She comes back to interrupt them, she sets out to make them uncomfortable by asking them what’s going on, and then she vindictively insults Kim (by implying that Colin used her). Here, when Colin says that he owed it to his younger self to make out with Kim, JR is reluctant to agree. (And her reaction is even more disquieted later on in this conversation, which we’ll get to.)
Colin leans back and JR pulls her legs around and puts them on his lap. YMMV but this is a fairly intimate gesture in my book. At the very least it’s comfortable. Given that it has already been established to at least some degree that Colin…appreciates JR in a sexual way, it’s significant to have her legs across his lap and her butt against his thigh. He’s got his arms crossed, which tells me he doesn’t quite know what to do with them. So he’s at this weird crossroads between being extremely self-aware and being in a relaxed moment with her.
JR goes off on a tangent about how everyone sleeps and how weird that is. (Night blogger in the house!) Typical JR, and the exact reason why I love her and Colin because that’s not the way his thoughts would ever tend. He needs JR there to make his life “kooky”. She ends by saying, “Except sharks.” I think that’s some questionable biology there, but I love Colin’s little smile. He’s amused.
However, Colin’s thoughts are on Zoe, for the moment. And so he can’t muster a good mood. Not that Colin is ever in a good mood, LOL. Zoe is as tied up in this question of Colin’s unsatisfying life as his job as a copy writer for focus presentations is. Every time JR has insulted Zoe Colin has made no effort to defend her. And here he outright says it: the situation with Zoe is “so fucked”. I think a slight breeze of guilt moves past him, but for the most part his lack of contrition is a sign that he doesn’t care about the integrity of his relationship with Zoe. “What about her?” he says. Even if he plans on staying with Zoe, a healthy, functional relationship with her isn’t a priority for him.
A very interesting thing comes up here. JR begins, “It’s a relief to hear you didn’t…”, but doesn’t finish. Colin asks her, but doesn’t wait very long for her answer, and continues speaking about the situation with Zoe. JR does finish her sentence, but very quietly. I believe she says, “love her.” I’m not 100% certain, and it’s not in the subtitles, but I’m going to proceed as if that’s what she says. I do definitely think that’s what she says. It’s a slight possibility that she’s talking about Kim Thompson, but it would make more sense if she were talking about Zoe. So, talking about Zoe, JR says, “It’s a relief to know you didn’t love her.” I think it’s interesting that she puts it in the past tense, as if Colin and Zoe aren’t even together anymore. In a way they’re not, because any illusion of Zoe and Colin as a solid, content couple is totally shattered. (But it would be pretty hard to make that mistake!)
Now, there are a lot of reasons why JR wouldn’t want Colin to love Zoe. JR obviously doesn’t like Zoe, and the feeling is mutual. But the way that JR says it indicates so much more. First we have her not finishing the sentence – she begins the sentence and then has second thoughts about finishing it. And then she finally does finish it, but as sort of a sad whisper. A SAD WHISPER, GUYS. I think this is a really important moment for JR, and I think she’s starting to figure her feelings out. She realizes that she’s relieved that Colin isn’t in love with Zoe because the thought makes her jealous and/or because she wants Colin to love her instead. Maybe it’s merely that she doesn’t want to share Colin with Zoe. But there’s an epiphany in the works.
Colin lies down next to JR on the couch. If you notice, he leaves his feet hanging off the side of the couch, so JR’s legs are still thrown over his. They’re all tangled up!
JR continues to reassure him that he’s not headed for some sort of middle-aged suburban cliché, and she promises to whisk him away before it’s too late. She says she’ll bring his stupid gargoyles too – but then she corrects herself and calls them his “precious gargoyles”. I think it’s pretty sweet that she did that. “Stupid” just came right out, but she wanted to be supportive and so she changes the adjective to something that isn’t insulting. Zoe won’t let Colin put his gargoyles up in the house but JR even thinks to mention them in this joking hypothetical because she knows how much they mean to him.
JR jokes that she’ll bring Colin to whoever her new “mentor/suitor” is and “we can live in their basement or something”. So even though she’s got this boyfrend she and Colin are the ones living together. JR, I think you’re accidentally showing your cards here, babe.
Colin points out that he and JR only see each other, “like twice a year.” He says this resentfully, but it has been established that JR’s parents are the ones keeping JR at a distance. It’s really their fault. JR actually seems to really love her family and want to spend time with them, but they’re embarrassed of her. Which is what makes Colin falling in love with her that much better. JR is a mess on the outsider, but Colin is a mess on the inside.
God I love this movie!
JR asks Colin was his dream life would have been, and Colin reveals that he had thought about teaching. What I love about this part of the discussion is that JR repeats, basically word-for-word, something disparaging that Colin had said about teaching years and years earlier. Colin is impressed – and dareth I say touched? Yes, I dareth – that JR remembered what he had said so well, and JR says that it “had an effect”. So we have this moment where Colin has to acknowledge that JR actually listens to what he has to say and lets herself be influenced by what he has to say. And this goes back to the very beginning of the conversation, where Colin is afraid of JR judging him and thinking he’s like the people at the party. These two care about what the other has to say, unlike the rest of the world.
JR doesn’t see any room for advancement in teaching, and she basically asks, “Then what?” And Colin jokes that he can then have sex with his students and promise them jobs. It’s a clever stab at JR’s situation (and she takes it in good humor), but what’s really impressive is that he immediately apologizes and says, “I’m in no position to judge.” What a complete 180 from earlier! He’s definitely a pod person. This is not Colin we know and begrudgingly tolerate. (JK we love that loser.)
Colin wanting to be a teacher is very convenient, since the comparison to JR’s ex is immediately drawn. First by Colin, in fact. Eh eh *elbows you*
JR has never thought of Colin being a teacher because of the bad things he had said about teaching, but she takes a minute to picture it and this is the tippy top of the roller coaster because it’s a steep downward slope from here. (And it’s a blast!). “I guess I could imagine you, though,” JR says. And this is when the camera zooms in, which lends it further significance and signals a new stage of their conversation. JR means that she can picture him being a teacher, but Colin can’t resist: “What? Fucking my students?” I think he knows that’s not what she means – though it’s not clear – but this mix of Colin+sex+identity confusion with her ex makes for too much allure and he presses the concept of him being a teacher who has sex with students again. He’s right too, because as we’ll soon see, it gives JR the hots. He’s watching her rather closely.
So, in JR’s mind, Colin making out with Kim was something creepy and perverse. It was cheating, but beyond that it wasn’t particularly sordid, especially given the fact that he’d had a crush on her while growing up AND JR had been encouraging him! But I think Colin being with Kim made JR so unhappy when it actually happened that it has become this dark thing in her mind.
It also had another important effect – it got JR thinking about Colin as a sexual being. Of course she knew he was sexually active but she actually has to confront the image of him being sexual. That was just what happened with Kim. This new Colin-as-a-teacher-who-has-sex-with-his-students is just a whole other layer and it’s confusing her.
Again, Colin is watching her pretty closely. He’s interested in her reactions.
And what’s Colin’s response? “Oh yeah? Well you don’t know the half of it.”
OH MY GOD.
I mean, I think he’s joking around a little, of course, but essentially he’s admitting that he wants her. Of course she’s not in a position to realize that, but as an audience that has seen the movie at least once, we know better.
Colin mumbles something after this, but it’s totally unintelligible. It’s one of the great mysteries of this movie. But it’s absolutely impossible to understand, so I don’t beat myself up over it.
Now, I think the use of the word perverse here is interesting. Perhaps it’s not significant, but we’ve heard the word once before in the movie – Colin told JR that she was “a hot commodity in the world of perverts”, and now Colin is self-identifying as a pervert. Just sayin’! And even without JR bringing the word “pervert/perverse” back into the discussion, it was already interesting that Colin indicated that JR was prone to being the object of perverted desire, because of the eventual incest.
OK, I will freely admit that I don’t quite understand JR’s vibrator story. (If that could be called a story.) At least, I don’t understand why it’s a part of the movie or a part of this conversation. It does lead to the “scent-free vagina” exchange where JR tells Colin that his future daughter may have inherited this quality from their mother, bypassing quite ostentatiously – and significantly – any discussion of JR’s own vagina and it’s aromatic qualities, since she is a direct descendant. Perhaps that was the whole purpose.
Or perhaps it was all about the part where Colin says he hasn’t been able to get an erection ever since JR mentioned their mother’s vibrator (which JR never actually got as far as mentioning, so obviously this is a lie/joke), and JR then asks Colin if he had an erection while making out with Kim, and Colin is awkward about it and doesn’t want to answer, which makes JR feel embarrassed about asking.
The exact meaning of all of this isn’t clear to me but the general trend of the conversation towards more sexual matters is pretty obvious and intentional, and the “molestation” discussion (somewhat parallel, since it involved them personally and sexual things) at the car earlier that day was light and easy, whereas there’s obviously quite a lot of tension building in this discussion and it’s full of mines of awkwardness and embarrassed retreats.
JR laughs disproportionately hard at his “butt cracks” pun. She might be laughing hysterically because of all the tension but it’s obvious she does find the joke funny. This will be important in a moment.
The joke and ensuing laughter does nothing to dispel the tension, however, and once JR has her breath back she takes a turn down a road they will not becoming back from. There’s a substantial charge that manifests when JR begins speaking again. The image of Colin as a teacher/professor obviously hasn’t left her mind, and the lull in the conversation gives her the opportunity to abruptly change the subject and go back to that topic, which I’m guessing she had been semi-desperate to do all along. She would have steered the conversation back there no matter what. From the way she begins talking about it, you can tell she has been thinking about it this whole time and the fantasy had already started in her head before she begins spinning it out loud.
She begins painting the picture of him as a professor. Colin only ever said “teacher”, but she imagines a professor, which is important because of her ex. JR obviously has a thing for professors. But she makes this very specifically about Colin. She talks about his stupid clothes – specifically naming his jeans from earlier in the movie that she disapproved of – and she again mentions the gargoyles. And she mentions him being awkward as part of the fantasy as well. This isn’t just any fanstasy/scenario – she’s picturing Colin.
Colin has spent a lot of this discussion studying JR very closely, but both of them close their eyes while she weaves the fantasy, becoming invested in the story and it probably helps them to forget a little where they actually are and what the real life situation is. In a way it’s kind of wonderfully ironic, because Colin looks like he’s falling asleep but they’re both electrified.
The girl/student in the fantasy starts out pretty generic, and I think JR meant for her to be generic at first, JR becomes that girl more and more as the story goes on. First JR says that Professor Colin appreciates the girl because she’s the only one in the class who laughs at his stupid jokes. And just a minute or two ago we had JR laughing really hard at one of Colin’s stupid jokes. (And as we learned from Zoe and at the party, no one else particularly likes Colin’s jokes.)
Our second hint that JR is more than a little turned on is when she starts brushing her nipple with her finger as she talks about the pin that Professor Colin gave to the girl. (This was the point when I was watching the movie for the first time that I knew something for sure just had to happen.) Stimulating herself like that while Colin is lying down next to her is bad enough, but she’s actually thinking about him, we know that for a fact!
The part of the fantasy about the empty seat and the girl arriving just as the movie starts and the popcorn without butter is all rather specific. At this point JR has definitely moved on from some run-of-the-mill teacher/student fantasy and made it into something that appeals very specifically to her. The part about the movie and the address on the rough draft highlight the forbidden nature of the teacher/student relationship, which obviously has a parallel with an incestuous relationship. JR is a hot commodity in the world of perverts and she keeps falling for guys she’s not supposed to be with.
The final part of the fantasy has the girl arriving at the professor’s house for their first sexual encounter (one supposes) – and of course JR and Colin are at the same threshold. JR describes the girl as punctual, ready, fun, a good person, and destined for success – all qualities JR wants for herself, particularly the last one. There can be no debate at this point that JR has made herself the girl in the fantasy. She goes on to say, “And you guys get each other, which is so rare. And it just, I don’t know, it just makes sense.” If anything in the fantasy she described applied to Colin and JR, it’s that. Colin and JR get each other now, and they just make sense.
“Sounds like you’re kind of guy,” Colin says. And “Your Kind of Guy” is the title of the chapter, BTW. Colin says it lightly, as if it doesn’t mean anything, but it means everything and JR knows that.
I’m not going to cover the rest of the scene, though there are a lot of small things to notice and appreciate about the rest of the scene. I’m crazy about the Jeannette bit, and the camera panning a little to show that Colin’s arm is thrown over JR’s chest, and then Colin whispering, “Good night, Jeannette,” at the end, because he’s such a glorious effin’ mess of guilt and shame and happiness and terror and confusion. JR’s just like, “Yes, thank God, something good finally happened on this trip from hell,” and Colin is like, “Being this is in love with my sister is a serious fucking problem.”
I hope there were one or two things in there that you found interesting, Anon! I tried.
THE COLOR WHEEL!