Passing: Dealing With The Demons Within Seems To Be A Common Theme

Passing: Dealing With The Demons Within Seems To Be A Common Theme

The demons that live within us are strong. It seems like this year the films I am watching are dealing with this subject in one way or another. As I watched writer/director Rebecca Hall’s adaption of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella, Passing both the free spirited Clare (Ruth Negga) and the reserved Irene (Tessa Thompson) old high school classmate are dealing with two sides of color.

The film starts with Irene who is on this particular day trying to pass as White. Her hat is pulled down and she is racked with nerves. The day is severely hot and she nervously enters an all White hotel to have tea. There see views Clare is a Black woman passing for White, who she went to school with. She is so convincing, she has married John (Alexander Skarsgård), a man who is racist and has had a child who is also White.

Ruth Negga, Alexander Skarsgård

Hall starts her magic with Eduard Grau’s stunning black-and-white cinematography., The lighting, the long shots, the close-ups and the gazes of the actors fill in the silent moments of doubt and deep seated pain. Hall, Grau, editor Sabine Hoffman, and composer Devonté Hynesdo casting a spell over the audience the longer the film plays.

Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson

Clare misses being Black and longs for her youth. She is in NYC because her  husband is conducting business. She brings news and gossip from their hometown of Chicago. The first meeting ends with John thinking Irene is White, expresses his hatred of Blacks. The horrific dialogue states that Clare also hates Blacks, but has been getting darker and darker every year we’ve been together.” For this she has earns the nickname “Nig.”

André Holland, Tessa Thompson

Irene’s husband, Brian (André Holland) and her two sons live well in Harlem. He is a doctor. Irene tells him about that encounter and that she wants nothing to do with Clare. As Brian tries to warn his sons about the racist trouble they’ll face in the world, Irene wants to keep their innocence in tact. The two fight about the balance of truth. After ignoring Claire’s letters,  Clare shows up unannounced. Their friendship becomes rekindled out of guilt.

Irene volunteers at the Negro Welfare League and Clare wants to tag along. Most of the Black men fawn over her light-skinned beauty, except Hugh (Bill Camp), a white writer, who is observing Black folks and writing about them. When Hugh asks why Clare would go to a dance in Harlem, Irene responds that she’s there “for the same reason you are. To see Negroes.”

Clare longs to be amongst her people again, and this throws Irene off-kilter. Her husband seems to have more than a friendly interest and Claire tries to figure the truth and reconcile her own feelings.

This cast is exquisite and create a world that we seem to be like Irene trapped in.

Both Irene and Claire struggle with the demons that are eating them alive.

Spoiler Alert!

In the end is it Irene, John or Claire, who caused this tragic ending. Like them one can never be sure how deep we are tortured.


Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email:

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