As Barack Obama’s departure from the White House fully sinks in for many Americans, a Netflix original film directed by Vikram Gandhi directs attention to the first African-American president. In the memoir-based drama, viewers follow Obama through his time in mainland America following his move to NYC for his studies at Columbia University
As the first scene opens, rather suddenly, we are greeted by an immediately recognizable view: An early 1980’s airplane, people shrouded in darkness, illuminated only by the lights of rapidly approaching New York and moodily flickering cigarettes. These elegant and seemingly effortless panning shots showcase the livelihood of the era and dominate the cinematography of the film. Grassroots and standard, the compositions are both simplistic and attentive at the same time. Minimal shots of streetways and basketball courts slowly evolve to reveal bustling streets, all the while maintaining a certain retrospective feel. Scenes such as the first, filled with thoughtfulness and self examination, are most often followed by scenes of roiling difference. Frat parties, 80’s cocaine disco clubs, and rough public housing parties are quick to appear after contemplative and precisely thought out scenes.
For the majority of the movie Obama is new, and searching for the elusive place which he refers to as “his scene.” The film displays a dizzying number of tranches in 80’s culture, all of them available for Obama to establish himself in, and seemingly Obama fits into none. He speaks of long dead groups of writers and lusts for an intellectual community, however throughout the course of the film Obama never seems to find exactly which “scene” he is so desperately seeking. This anguish, which Obama conceals beneath layers of his pensive and introspective persona, hangs over the entirety of the film. This leaves the potential for viewers to find it incomplete, or even unnerving. However, when examined for what it is trying to display, “Barry” should be received with far more praise. Initially a biography of Barack Obama’s early days, but on another level, “Barry” serves as a commentary on the progression of society and the difficulty of truly understanding oneself. “Barry” is sure to leave viewers in a questioning mood, as it lends itself as a near ethereal depiction of confusion in the modern day despite its dated setting.
Especially relevant for East students, the stresses of an academic-focused lifestyle render some less sure of themselves and less connected with their true wants and needs. For a few, empathizing with Obama in his troubles finding his niche will prove to be the takeaway. However for many, the thought of a meditation on one’s own aura will provoke one’s own Barack level contemplation.