Visual Character Development Techniques in Brighton Rock
Graham Greene provides a great deal of descriptive language in the novel Brighton Rock to further the reader’s understanding of Pinkie Brown’s sociopathic character. The novel’s film adaptation, of course, has no narrator. Thus, co-screenwriter Greene highlights Pinkie’s character traits in more subtle, visual ways when transferring the work to the screen.
Actor Richard Attenborough adopts an unchanging look of withdrawn anger throughout the film. From this, we can see that Pinkie’s main (and possibly only) emotion is bitterness. This is because Pinkie despises everyone and cannot connect with others. Pinkie’s facial expressions convey this consistent hatred in a visual way.
One of the most visually striking scenes in the film occurs when Pinkie pushes Fred Hale off the inferno rollercoaster ride, murdering him. The dark, bleak lighting in the rollercoaster tunnel, alongside the glowing, sinister visages of devils and demons, is meant to parallel Pinkie’s inner sociopathic condition. The ride also foreshadows Pinkie’s unflinching belief in Hell and damnation, which is a big part of his somewhat problematic Catholic faith. This short, uncomfortable scene provides the audience with information on Pinkie’s internal qualities, including his beliefs. It is important to keep in mind that this scene is not in the book, because it is a visual substitute for the less visually appealing textual scene where Hale is murdered under obscure circumstances.
Finally, the viewer learns a lot from the lighting in Pinkie’s scenes. Many of the scenes where Pinkie is in power and has the “upper hand” are extremely dark. For example, the scene where Pinkie and Rose go on their date to the pier is almost pitch black. Also, every scene with the gang’s meetings is very dark. We can assume from this that, when Pinkie is in control, he is eager to get in touch with his “dark” feelings and to act on his unethical impulses.
The exception to these scenes is evident when Pinkie is vulnerable, such as the meeting in the Cosmopolitan Hotel with intimidating mob boss Corleone or his backfiring plans at the daytime Brighton horse races. In an interesting way, the most powerful character in any given Brighton Rock scene indirectly determines the location’s atmosphere. Granted this is a calculated effort on the part of the filmmakers rather than the characters themselves, but this illusion of control over one’s surroundings highlights that the film is largely about power. This is especially true of Pinkie, who is attempting to overcome his rival gang’s power and to make a name for himself as a crime boss in Brighton’s criminal underworld. So, the darkest scenes of the film act as visual representation of Pinkie’s internalities, as well as his imagined plans for Brighton’s future. This furthers our understanding of Pinkie’s intentions, as well as, subsequently, our understanding of how seriously Pinkie takes his violent lifestyle.
With the film adaptation of Brighton Rock, Graham Greene shifts his character development from verbose description to less obvious visual techniques. By creating a character that gives off an emotionless physical appearance and exists in dark (and occasionally hellish) surroundings, Greene creates an equally successful cinematic representation of the evil Pinkie who was already brought to life so vividly in the pages of his novel.
Boulting, John. Brighton Rock. Charter, 1947. Film.
Greene, Graham. Brighton Rock. New York: Penguin Books, 1938. Print.