Made up of three shorter episodes, “Small Deaths” addresses a sense of despair that constantly permeates our everyday life. The use of red in contrast with its complimentary color green is like a metaphor for contradicting forces that work against each other.
Part 1. ma and da
The first part starts with little Anne Marie rolling on the floor and singing. Her bright coral-red dress is very eye-catching on a darker background of deep red. Little Anne Marie is still growing up and she freely explores whatever she gets offered in the huge expanse of redness, which symbolizes a feminine instinct/identity that becomes clearer over the course of film.
The focus is adjusted from little Anne Marie to her parents who are in the background of this frame, beside the coral-red curtain and the green patterned walls.
In contrast with the coral-red curtain and other orange objects scattered in the room, the green wall seems to represent a conflicting force that’s the opposite of the feminine red. In this scene, Anne Marie’s father barely speaks but his behavior tells us he is not having a good relationship with his wife, and this indirect conflict between Anne Marie’s parents is a lively portrayal of the contrast between red and green.
The red female suit hanging on the wall symbolizes the femininity that corresponds with all the other reds we’ve seen in the film.
part 2. holy cow
In the second part of it, Little Anne Marie is couple of years older and this time, it’s the other girl who is dressed in coral-red and wearing a same color hair band.
They are in the nature, being part of it. The colorful patterns on the girl’s dress suggest that femininity has the qualities of nature: nurturing, abundant, and attentive to all kinds of life.
When they are running towards the cow killed by the boys, who are the symbol for violence and masculinity, the little red dress looks like a powerless tiny point inundated by the whole chunk of green, which is also the metaphorical appearance for anything that is hurtful to feminine identity. In this part, the area of green is larger than that in the first part, showing that as a girl grows up, she will have to face more and more difficult moments in her life on a regular basis.
The red blood simply says that femininity can hurt like a scar.
Part 3. Joke
At the beginning of the third part, Anne Marie stands in the corner of the wall; the same shade of red surrounds her as it suggests that she is now a grownup woman.
When she is called by her boyfriend to go upstairs,
we see her follow the red areas on the wall all the way upward. We can tell she’s following her unique feminine instinct as she has always been doing.
At the end of this shot the camera goes down below her elbow, and we see the world gets almost turned upside down, foreshadowing that what’s going to happen is probably not pleasant.
As it turns out, Anne Marie is tricked, and it’s a trick about a woman being abused by a group of men. Anne Marie has learned to take anything related to life seriously, after her childhood experiences as shown in the previous two parts. This time is even worse, because it’s not just men tricking women: as she grows older, Anne Marie realizes women can also be mean to women together with men.
At the end we find that we all have the similar feeling when we grow older, which is the expansion of the sense of loss and the ultimate sadness, that inevitably makes us feel that we could die for times in our lifetime, even just in one day. We constantly struggle with these emotional and spiritual deaths, which are never great enough to lead to the final physical death.