Review: Prince's Purple Rain

Purple Rain explores a messy, mesmerizing artist



When I walked into the IMA on Saturday afternoon, the hall leading to the Toby Theater was flooded with purple. The sea of colorfully clothed moviegoers practically snaked out the front door.

"The line for this movie is insane," I exclaimed to my friends. "What did you expect? It's for Prince!" an older woman behind me said with a smile.

The IMA's screening of Prince's cinematic showcase, 1984's Purple Rain, was a cathartic tribute to an artist who left an indelible mark on the world.

Before the film, Scott Stulen, the IMA’s curator of audience experiences and performance, spoke about the impression Prince left on his life, especially as a fellow Minnesotan.

“He didn’t run away to LA like so many musicians. He stayed true to his roots,” Stulen said, later talking about how often he spotted Prince around Minneapolis — at the gas station, the grocery store, local arts events. He stayed connected to the community — to the point that his fans weren’t faces lost in a crowd; they were an important part of his life. Beneath the glitzy surface of his performances are deeply personal, thoughtful messages.

As mysterious and otherworldly as Prince seemed, a raw, human light peeked through his strange purple aura. In Purple Rain, we see the vulnerability beneath his pop star veneer. He's at once down-to-earth and larger-than-life — a man and a myth.

In the film, Prince stars as a semi-biographical version of himself. It follows him as he builds a tough musical persona as the frontman of a headlining band at a popular nightclub in Minneapolis. When he's onstage, Prince's character can do anything, casually juggling genres and casting a spell on the crowd. But after his performances, he fights with his bandmates, struggles to cope with his abusive father and gets himself tangled in an eruptive romance. Needless to say, his personal life isn't nearly as smooth as his stage presence.

Purple Rain is a beguiling behind-the-music exploration of a messy, mesmerizing artist — one who threw ideas at the wall and found all of them sticking. Prince blended funk, disco, R&B, acid rock, synth-pop, the list goes on. What's even more impressive is that his personal voice rang clearly through every musical experiment. He made each style of music his own, imbuing them all with soul and substance.

The film paints Prince as a performer who unravels his life onstage, working through feelings of love, loss and anger. It portrays him as an artist who can turn a stadium into a living room and a rock show into a therapy session. When he sings, we see the much-needed emotional release.

Purple Rain culminates in an explosive performance of the titular song. Prince lets his guard down, defies his mysterious appearance and pours his soul out on the stage. During this powerful, climactic moment, everyone in the Toby Theater sang along and waved their phone lights in the air. Prince's spirit surged through the crowd. It was a touching testament to the immortal power of movies and music.


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