Desperate times call for desperate measures: that’s why Ewa let herself be sold into prostitution by Bruno.
In an attempt to escape from the harsh realities of post World War I Poland, both Ewa and Magda try to immigrate to the Unites States of America to stay with their only remaining blood relative-Aunt Edyta. Upon arrival at the Eliis Island, the authorities diagnose Magda with a contagious lung disease and separate her from Ewa. From that point on, Ewa’s sole purpose is to pay for her quarantined sister’s medical expenses and have her released from the watch of the authorities. In this quest, Ewa meets Bruno- a man who, charming at first, manages to convince Ewa to sell herself into prostitution. This is roughly what can describe the essential idea of James Gray’s The Immigrant.
The film depicts many things- moral values, guilt, familial love, and so on. But there is one particular scene from the film that left on me a strong impression. The police catches Ewa in the act and they send her back to Eliis Island to await and receive judgment from the authorities. One of the authorities tips her off by saying that if she looks healthy in front of the judges, she has a higher chance of not being deported to Poland. So Ewa, acknowledging the tip, pricks her finger and applies the blood on her lips to look more attractive.
My reaction? Women are crazy! They’d do anything to look attractive and presentable! But then I thought a little more in depth about what she did and what that meant. To put things in perspective, Ewa was after all in a miserable situation- she could not afford to be deported! So it is understandable that Ewa wanted to present herself well. It is however puzzling that she goes to the extent of pricking herself with a hairpin because that does not seem like a natural instinct at the outset. But keeping in mind the fact that Ewa did not have access to a bath or clean clothes, her body was all she could use.
However it can also be argued that Ewa could have simply fixed her hair by tying it neatly and grooming it. So, why the blood? Well turning to color perception theories can help understand Ewa. Many psychologists have claimed that someone wearing red is perceived as more attractive person as opposed to someone wearing another color. Moreover, in 2010, Elliot A.J, Kayser D.N.et al published a study on the effects of the color red on humans . One of their major conclusions was that such perceptions were generated only at subconscious level: humans are not aware of how colors affect their decision-making.
So the above provides one possible explanation to why Ewa’s natural instinct was to prick herself to make her lips look red: her subconscious self guided her to. One might argue that this is not true; but the next scene in the movie suggests otherwise! Orlando the magician, while walking down a ramp-like space, pauses right next to Ewa’s chair, looks at her, and says “Oh! Beautiful!”
Written By: Namrata Haribal