Behind the Wardrobe: By The Sea

In Search of Feeling

Sitting in a quaint seaside town for what feels like forever a couple poses next to each other, while completely alone inside themselves. Creating a level of glamour that if viewed only at a surface level can appear vapid and self-indulgent. However, upon continued observation, it is clear that the self-serving behaviors of the main characters, Vanessa <Angelina Jolie> and Roland <Brad Pitt> are pitted in pain and depression. Although both characters are dealing with the side effects of the same drama their response and coping machinists are clearly different. Creating the illusion that the characters appear to be in a loveless marriage for the first 60 minutes of the film. This is in complete contrast to their on-screen neighbors, a newlywed couple that is in the frills of love and life.

Despite the sad subject and quiet nature of the film, there are many reasons to appreciate By the Sea. Including:

The Visuals: Encompassing both the charm of a small town and the allure of the ocean right outside their window, the scenery is vastly beautiful. One cannot help but fantasize about being seaside in that very town taking a break from the business of everyday life.

The Wardrobe: Especially that of Jolie's character is nothing less than exquisite. Every piece of clothing that adorns Jolie throughout the film appears to be impeccably made and tailored to her then frail figure. This is no coincidence as every piece was ready-made for each character. The fabrics that make up her beautifully done wardrobe though simple in color, texture, and print appear buttery soft and beyond luxurious. It is said that Jolie herself created a look book to inspire the mood/style of the film's wardrobe and costume designer Ellen Mirojnick looked at collections by Halson and YSL from the time. Yet neither were looking to create a period piece so they kept their inspiration broad and loose. Aside from maybe one too many nightgowns, Vanessa's wardrobe could easily be envied as the perfect capsule wardrobe. As she has less than a couple dozen pieces that all mix and match together beautifully and even more so each piece looks to be of the utmost quality. Characteristics that could also describe the wardrobe of many fashionable french women. Nothing in her coset, not even that in which she roams about her room in is without glamour. Looking in through a window I would say every piece must bring her boundless joy but if you have seen the film you would know that's quite a stretch. However, I would go as far as to say that every item she owns most likely brought a younger version of herself joy.

For more about the design process check out these articles/interviews with costume designer Ellen Mirojnick:

1- 7 Things to know about costumes in By the Sea - The Cut  

2- By the Sea’s Costume Designer on ’70s French Glamour and Brad and Angelina’s “Raw” On-Set Passion - Vogue 

The Depression: Often expressed through extreme bouts of pain and torture mental illness in the film is usually displayed through extreme emotion and behavior, however that is not how all people experience things such as depression. The nature of Vanessa’s depression is quiet and solitary and in my opinion completely relatable. Some critics complain Jolie’s put together appearance isn’t the reality of someone with depression. However, I disagree as that is the time and lifestyle she lives in, back then dressing up was more of a necessity than a suggestion or choice. Also, it is questioned why she acts so lifeless, to this I say depression comes in many forms but her lifeless wanders and inability to communicate with or care about her husband is so true of someone struggling with grief. As many people with depression lose interest in life and the ability to feel or care. Plus the film clearly demonstrates how different people can have varying reactions to the same pain, as they show her husband Roland suffering through the same wound but more open to the healing process. I do not believe this contrast was done to show one way is in any way superior but rather to show that sadness can affect people differently and not everyone can move past grief at the same time. Yet it should be noted to be in Roland's shoes is no easier than to be in those of Vanessa's as he must attempt to understand her pain and forgive her prolonged despondency.

Furthermore, the reason I appreciate the film By the Sea so much is because even though the characters that make up the film are very much the epitome of glamor the situation they are dealing with is far from being glamourized. When I watch the film I see a beautiful woman unable to feel, finally deciding she wants to regain some sensation and acting out in ways that may cause her to feel something/anything again.

Ellen Mirojnick Discusses Costume Design

Angelina Jolie Discusses the character of Vanessa

Angelina Jolie discusses the grief within the film


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