Some excerpts from student analysis papers, class of 2021

(and a bit from Dan)


Lionel is suffering from “blank page” syndrome – a lack of inspiration.  At the beginning of the film, there are no colours in his world.

 I believe the use of such a large canvas was perfect to make us feel the task Lionel had to overcome.  In the opening of the movie, we see this canvas that is quite literally 10 times larger than him.  This immense white background with the small character in front makes for a David against Goliath moment.  (Ralph)


But Paulette is Lionel’s “palette”!  Her role in their strange relationship is to bring colour – by stirring up Lionel’s lust, jealousy, and other passionate emotions.

Once he convinces Paulette to keep living with him, his work starts to have colour again, notably warm colours (reds, yellows, oranges), ones that appear to match the objects found in Paulette’s room (her red lamp, orange candlestick, et cetera).  (Lisa)

When she reveals that she had an affair and won’t be sleeping with him, this somehow doesn’t shake his ability to paint. His fuel has now become sexual frustration.  There’s a clear power dynamic between Lionel and Paulette in which she is seeking his approval on her art and he needs her around for inspiration.  As she sticks around at his place she is continuously creeped on and being watched by Lionel which is shown with zoom-ins on the hole in the wall of her bedroom, and Lionel just walking into her room.  Throughout the film, she asks if her art is good and if she’ll ever be an artist.  I think Lionel doesn’t give her a real answer in order for her to continue to seek his approval.  She wants to become a well-known artist just like him.  I’m not sure if she’s intentionally using him or if she feels that she has no other choice, but it can be interpreted in both ways considering how some scenes are depicted.  In one scene she says that she hates him and wants to leave, and in the other she is half nude in front of Lionel.  It’s clear that she is very confused and still trying to figure out who she is. (Michael)

Paulette’s art is dark, and one of her pieces also seems to feature one person trying to escape the grasp of another, which could reflect the situation and emotions Paulette feels being stuck at Lionel’s.  There is something holding her there internally, but he also literally locks her in a bathroom at one point, so the whole “being stuck” thing can be taken either way.  (Lisa)


Lionel supports Paulette and he wants her to stay with him even if there is no evident true love between them.  Their affair is a mixed relation between desire and work ethics that give the impression of a failed relationship, but when you look deeper, we can see that both gain success from that without any bad repercussions.  Lionel wants to develop and figure out the inner artist that is hiding in Paulette and the control he exercises is a tool to lead her career to success.  He has an intense way of painting that is connected to the emotions that she makes him feel just like it is his source of inspiration.  He works on his canvas in emotion-loaded moments when he has to ground himself to something and he doesn’t want to let out the excessive desolation as he prefers to transfer the force from the raise of tensions in his mind towards the control of his thoughts to visualize his perceptions.  In other words, he can only work efficiently when painting is the only escape for the load of emotions that are piling in him and he constantly need to be triggered by something he passionately loves such as women to have the capacity to make art.

On the other hand, the only instances we see Paulette being melancholic about a situation is when she is faced with deep vibrant emotions towards Lionel’s painting.  The model that Lionel made her follow doesn’t go accordingly to her vision of art.  She wants to face many feelings and she does that by forcing herself to face multiple situations where her control of her emotions will drift.  She thinks art comes from the thrill of emotions, but she is seen in full connection with art only when she can capture the lack of emotional distraction from Lionel being emotionally gone while he paints.  In contrast with Lionel, she has to get away from her emotions to be able to have a better understanding of her mind and she will achieve this by quitting Lionel.  After all events, we understand that their relationship was necessary to nourish their connection to themselves in opposite ways and they both benefited from the other’s treatment.  (Gabriel)

The use of language throughout the film reflects Lionel’s way of thinking.  He is engrossed with emotion and is unable to find a middle ground in his mind.  He uses words like ‘slaughter’, ‘kill’, and ‘suicide’ to describe his painting.  He has no choice but to subject himself to the torment of painting and similarly to his relationship with Paulette: it is feast or famine.  He is either paralyzed with the inability to create or he is delving into the darkest depths of his own mind for extended periods of time to create masterpieces. Paulette even describes herself as a human sacrifice at the end of the film.  She is a conduit for Lionel’s art and he has turned her into his unwilling muse.  She is the human sacrifice to the man who calls himself the Lion; he is a meat grinder who turns women into art.  Every twist in their relationship results in a rage-fueled painting session…  (Colin)

The painter is represented by the colour blue, more specifically royal blue.  A proof of that is that he steps on a tube of royal blue paint in the beginning.  Another point is that most of his formal clothing are blue.  He is pointed out at the club and even recognized since the people say that he is wearing a blue shirt.  So what does the colour mean?  Well, it could refer to the higher position he is in since he is the employer of his assistant.  People consider blue to be associated with royals such as the expression “blue blood.”  Also, he calls himself a lion since his name resembles the king of the jungle.  So everything points to a guy with a lot of status.  This also points out that the dream sequence was in fact the dream of the artist since everything in that dream has a blue shade to it.  (Xavier)

I believe that the filmmakers wanted the color blue to be verbally mentioned during the movie, in order for viewers to understand that blue follows Lionel throughout the entirety of the short.  In this case, blue signifies the overwhelming sadness the Lionel feels.  He goes through life alone and must manipulate women into staying with him.  His life is not one to aspire to, despite his fame, but rather is one to pity.  Blue is thus the perfect colour to represent his dismal life.  (Nikita)

Paulette on the other hand, is associated with red (the colour of passion), whether it’s her bright red lipstick, or the flowers and other accents in her room.  Her “room” (with a sign on the door reading “Ladies”) is on a higher level, making her like a princess trapped in a tower.  And the hole punched in the wall, which serves as a window, is also a means for Lionel to look in – or throw his basketball in, when he’s hoping to “score!” 

Paulette has angelic blond hair with red lipstick that matches the red light in her room above Dobie’s studio.  (Paulina)  

After working on his art, he goes to Paulette’s room while she is asleep.  The door opens slowly making the same noise as horror movies.  In the dark room, the director filmed Lionel’s shadow with a high angle.  When Paulette opens the lights, the low angle shows the main character looking down at her.  For the viewer, this scene gives an unsettling feeling, almost frightening.

In fact, the film has this combination of naturalism and expressionism.  Many aspects of the film tell the audience specific things such as the music and the editing.  The film uses a lot of distinct shot techniques in a stylistic way that is exaggerated.  On the other hand, the movie has a lot of characteristics that approached it to reality such as the background noises.  (Maria)

When Paulette attempts to capture Lionel’s attention while painting but fails, she stands back and admires him.  On the one hand, Paulette is realizing that the reason she loves Lionel is through their common passion: art.  On the other hand, the viewers of this film are realizing that Paulette is an inspiration to his art, but he does not actually love her.  Scorsese shows this through the shot where he zooms out from Lionel painting all the way until the corner of the room where we can see Paulette staring at him.  What is so ironic is that everyone thinks that Lionel is such an inspiration however he is getting his inspiration from women throughout the years.  (Lexie)

Towards the beginning of the film, Paulette has a massive hole in her bedroom wall, allowing Lionel to keep an eye on her, as he is a jealous and controlling man.  She is left with no privacy and he can watch her 24/7 – as is his intention.  However, as she starts slipping away from his grasp, refusing his sexual advances and his over-involvement in her life, the hole in her wall is covered.  This highlights the fact that Paulette is distancing herself from the artist, ending their abusive cycle.  She is no longer as easily manipulated as she once was.  (Nikita)

The medium shot of Lionel looking up to her room hearkens back to Romeo and Juliet.

Lionel… is utterly disinterested in art society.  There is a literal cage separating him from his patron when they speak for the first time.  This usage of production design serves to highlight the stark difference between their worlds.  (Colin)

It’s as though “the artist” is a beast in a cage, because he’s not capable of living with other people.  Lionel’s nickname is “The Lion,” known as the King of Beasts.  Interestingly, the other artist in the film, whom Paulette picks up at a party, is called Reuben Toro (which means “bull” in Spanish).  When Paulette chooses to sleep with Toro, it’s as though Lionel has been defeated in battle – he stares up at her room and plays “Conquistador” (a song about the Spanish soldiers who came to the New World; “conquistador” means “he who conquers”).  Lionel has red paint all over his body, which looks like blood, and he stands slumped like a vanquished foe.

Reuben Toro and the defeated Lion

Another moment when the camera was at a high angle for the renowned artist is when he is talking to his assistant in the stairs.  This time the camera is like that because it seems like the character is trying to make an effort to be supportive and the angle adds to the scene by making him look less threatening or imposing.  (Xavier)

The iris shot… represents a trap that Lionel employs to attract young women in his inner circle.  He manipulates them by promising art lessons and the potential to grow, but the close ups on the lingerie, the foot, the collarbone and the lips illustrates that he wants the women simply for his sexual pleasure.  The circle at the beginning contains only him because Paulette was trying to escape from his control.  In the end, Lionel found another victim to imprison in his circle, a target.  (Shreya)

The return of the iris shot at the closing scene gives the viewer a feeling of déjà vu to explain that Lionel’s vicious cycle, where he meets and falls in love with a girl who becomes his assistant and gets rejected, restarts.  (Anne-Sophie)



Some more of the “circle motifs” from the film – the basketball and hoop, “Russian Roulette” on Lionel’s beat up pickup truck, the spinning cassette tape, blaring Lionel’s sixties music, and an interesting detail – he uses a round garbage can lid as a paint palette (no doubt because he was and still is an anti-authority hippy with disdain for the commercial side of the art world.)


The song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procul Harum seems to be associated with Lionel’s relationship with Paulette.  The song is played when he picks her up at the airport, when he fantasizes about her, and when he plays basketball waiting for inspiration to come.

The common point that connects these three scenes is that Lionel is thinking or dreaming about Paulette.  It may also explain the title, which can be odd at first due to the impossibility of having a ‘whiter shade of pale’.  The main character seems to have a preference for younger women desiring to pursue their dreams as artists, and the song expresses a desire to have the whitest colour, which often symbolizes innocence. Consequently, the song may represent Lionel’s sexual preference and desire for young women artists’ innocence.  (Anne-Sophie)

The movie uses music time and time again to convey the mood of Lionel.  As he angrily rants towards himself, he violently presses the play button of the speaker, filling the room with rock once again.  Rock seems to convey strong emotions of frustration for Lionel but also seems to inspire creativity.  (Lilianne)

He aggressively yet passionately paints on his large canvas for the upcoming exhibition while “Like A Rolling Stone” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale” loudly played on his cassette. The wistful music accentuates his obsession, frustration, jealousy, desire, anger and confusion regarding Paulette, his beautiful younger assistant.  (Paulina)

The new “assistant” – a wanna-be artist whose name we don’t find out – played by Montreal actress Brigitte Bako.

One interpretation of the film is that it is suggesting that artists must suffer in order to create their art.  Even the performance artist Gregory Stark talks about it.

The comedy scene with Steve Buscemi also focuses on his distaste for ‘contentment’.  The only catalyst to create is strong emotion one way or the other but contentment is poison for artistic ability.  (Colin)