The motion picture Belly explores the ghetto and the characters that live in this dark and obscure world of violence and criminal behavior. Tommy or “Bunz”, and Sincere, who both live in New York, have differing views of criminal life. Bunz lives a mixed up, drug-run lifestyle, while Sincere aspires to be a law-abiding family man. To help the audience get the full effect of evilness portrayed by the character, the scenes are very dark and gloomy. There are, however, lighter scenes in which the good heart of one man is represented. The lighting in Belly helps with the characterization within the movie. One character is shown as a dark figure, and one as an almost holy figure, plus disillusionment is brought out nicely through lighting effects.
Throughout most of the movie, Bunz is in heavy shadow. This represents the underground and evil nature of his way; He deals in drugs and money, with quite a bit of killing involved. The fact that the audience almost never sees his face is a representation of society never seeing the actions, or faces for that matter, of real hard core criminals. For instance, while Bunz is in jail, his face is barely seen while he talks on the phone. His mouth is the only part of his face that actually enters the light in the segment. Hype Williams, the director, is drawing specific attention to the nature of this character: Bunz is a bad person, who is in jail because of illegal dealings, and a blanket of darkness has been cast over him. Society has turned its back on him, and he sits in its shadow. In another scene, Bunz is in the light; he is in a drug dealer’s house, and the sun is shining through onto Bunz. However, his back is to it, like he is pushing it away, and therefor a shadow is cast on his face and front. The light is so close to him, if he could just realize it, he could be freed from this horrible life. Seemingly he cannot escape the darkness of his world.
On the other hand, Sincere can! He was always at Bunz’s side, until he started to read self-improvement books and his wife started to talk sense into him. The first time the viewer sees Sincere in light is when he starts to read books on how to better his life. He has a few books on the table in front of him, and a lamp about a foot from his head, so he is bathed in light. Since Sincere is attempting to better himself and others, he is considered the good guy in the movie, hence the light in all his scenes. When Bunz is on the phone in jail, he is talking with Sincere.
There is a very nice contrast between the characters because while Bunz is in complete darkness, Sincere is in his house in a well-lit room. This is shortly before Sincere announces his change in lifestyle from gangster to family man, and the audience is clued into it by the effect the lighting has; they are able to distinguish the good from the bad and foresee the change. In another scene, Sincere is attempting to pull a kid out of the downward spiral of gangs. The sky is very cloudy, the buildings are trashy, the apartments are rundown, and the sun has yet to come up. Through a long shot, the audience sees a glowing white light moving across a field towards the little boy. This glow is actually a white jacket worn by Sincere, but it is so bright it appears to be glowing. The camera moves in, the boy is seen, and he says he is twelve. Sincere begins telling him how and why to stop drugs and killing. Sincere is almost angelic with his bright white jacket. The eye is immediately drawn to it and the contrast with the rest of the scene looks like it must have been exaggerated during editing. It seems apparent that Williams is trying to convey that Sincere has been touched by an angel, and is using his new found knowledge to help others and himself.
The lighting also helps convey the disillusionment of some of the characters. Keisha, Bunz’s girlfriend, is always seen in a mellow, cool blue light. It accents her very well, but more so, shows the denial she goes through. A girl calls the house she shares with Bunz, and asks for him. Keisha realizes this girl could be involved with Bunz in an affair, and confronts Bunz. He tells her he has never heard of this other girl. She blindly gives in and trusts him. Later, while Keisha is on the phone with Bunz, still in the strange blue lighting, the other girl is with him. Keisha is seen by the camera, and appears to realize the secret crime Bunz is committing, but lies to herself to think otherwise. The expressions on her face help to show that she is telling herself that there is no affair going on, and thus the denial, represented by the blue light. In another instance involving the blue light, Bunz is the one going through denial. He and Sincere are driving around town, when Sincere brings up the idea of quitting the crime industry. He asks Bunz why they were put on Earth, and Bunz replies “Money, dog!” Sincere says he has been reading books on how to better himself, and Bunz simply tells Sincere that the books are stupid. “We made ta die, in the meantime, get money. Screw a book,” is how Bunz reacts. He thinks all there is to life is to get money any way he can, and when his best friend tries to tell him otherwise, he wont believe it. Then, Bunz runs a red light, and Sincere asks him what he is doing. “You think I care about a red light? Them cops can’t touch me!! I’m smoking weed, speeding, and doin’ all that, I’m untouchable!” is Bunz response. But he is obviously disillusioned when his “invincibility” is shattered and he goes to jail within the next two days. He thinks he is like a ghost where no one can touch him. He thinks he rules the world because of all the money he has from drugs. All this happens under that eerie blue light. This blue light helps clue the audience in to things that go on in the characters’ minds that actually differ from reality.
The lighting in this movie is very effective. It helps to establish the characters very well. The audience is helping in distinguishing the bad and the good characters through the lighting. The movie overall is very stylized. There are some other strange lighting patterns brought out by Hype Williams, but by far the most effective lighting patterns are ones that help to characterize the main players in the film.