In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for X, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Mia Goth – Maxine “Max” Minx / Pearl
- Jenna Ortega – Lorraine “Raine” Day
- Brittany Snow – Bobby-Lynne Parker
- Scott Mescudi – Jackson Hole
- Martin Henderson – Wayne Gilroy
- Owen Campbell – R.J. Nichols
- Stephen Ure – Howard
- Ti West – Director and writer
Important motifs in X
X is essentially a metafilm—meaning the movie is about the art of making movies. There is, of course, a movie being made within the movie, which fundamentally qualifies X as a “metafilm.” R.J. strives to transcend the popular view of “pornography” and create a piece of art that transcends public expectations; he believes that one’s dedication and passion can extract the positive values that we typically only reserve for Hollywood dramas. While Wayne represents the superficial side of filmmaking, the desire to give people carnal pleasures and make a quick buck. That clash speaks to the inherent struggle of making a movie: what does a filmmaker get from the filmmaking experience?
But on a deeper level, West is smart to include a number of visual motifs that correlate the film’s aesthetic with both our own expectations of movies and Maxine’s character journey. As we discussed in the Key Shots section, West gravitates between the 1.37:1 aspect ratio (an antiquated technique that isn’t used very often by modern movies) and the 1.90:1 aspect ratio (the most common format you’d find these days). This motif demarcates what’s “real” and what’s “filmed” in X. The adult movie scenes are filmed in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, which brings the dilemma between R.J. and Wayne front and center in a visual sense: is what we’re watching superficial pleasure? Or transcendent art?
This motif then highlights Maxine’s inherent struggle. She is being shamed by her father and the rest of the conservative world for her ambitions in the pornography business. As we discussed in the Themes and Meaning section, the two main themes of X are “a divided nation” and “finding yourself.” Both of these struggles clash in the form of Maxine, who must manifest self-empowerment from her job, from her desire to become a star. When Maxine is on camera, she isn’t just acting—she’s acting out her passion. It is deeper than superficial pleasures for Maxine. And the movie’s filmic motif forces us to recognize that.
One of the key dynamics in X exists between Maxine and Pearl. Maxine is young and exuberant, ready to chase down her dreams and become famous. But Pearl lost her chance at a more fulfilling life. She had ambitions of becoming a famous dancer, but her plans were cast aside once her husband entered the war.
“That’s the power of beauty,” Pearl says to Maxine, as she explains her squashed dreams. “Not everything in life turns out how you expect.” At that moment, Pearl walks up to Maxine and says, “Such a special face. Beautiful.” She then asks Maxine to look into the mirror, and both of their faces and reflections are divided by a stair banister. As Maxine looks, Pearl reaches over and touches Maxine’s skin—almost as if she’s trying to extract from the fountain of youth.
This series of shots highlights the fear, the anxiety of aging. When you’re young, you seize the day; life feels short because there’s only so much time to realize your dreams. But when you’re old…life is long; you’re past your prime, and there’s no time left to chase your ambitions; so you settle down into a quiet life as you watch the rest of the young world chase and grow and shift the zeitgeist without your input. “Beauty” is only for the young. And all the Pearls of the world can do is look on with regret.
X takes that motif and gives it a horrifying framework. Pearl doesn’t just have to sit around and long for the past—she can exact revenge. She can inhibit the younger version of herself—as Pearl and Maxine look exactly alike—from succeeding. This becomes the central struggle of the film, as Maxine must combat the people who don’t want her to succeed. Maxine’s fight isn’t just with a conservative society that doesn’t want her to succeed in a morally reprehensible business—it’s also a fight with herself. Maxine must manifest her own destiny, must transcend societal expectations, must combat a future where she is denied a lifestyle she finds empowering.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more motifs you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for X? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider them for the guide.
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