Oh Those Halloween Nights: A Love Letter to Movies and Euphoria

This year, not many of us will be enjoying Halloween parties like we used to. I thought it might be a good reminder of a better world to pay tribute to the most stylish Halloween party of last year’s television: “The Next Episode,” episode six of HBO’s Euphoria. Speaking of, we should also congratulate the amazing makeup team of Euphoria, Zendaya, and Labrinth for their Emmy wins!

Now I would like to shift our focus toward Heidi Bivens’ incredible costumes, inspired by many iconic films. On many occasions, watching Euphoria felt like a love letter to cinema. In this vein, this article is my love letter toward this brilliant show and its masterful production. Let’s take a deep dive then into the “costume-ception” analysis of “The Next Episode.” Be aware, spoilers will follow.

While watching the characters live through this magically vivid Halloween party, we might wonder about their costume choices. They don’t draw inspiration from the mainstream. They don’t derive from memes, current celebrities, social media but from specific films, their generation might not even recognize. Costume and dressing, in general, are a way of nonverbal communication. Every choice we make, every choice a character makes in a story holds some meaning. Not making a choice is also a choice. This is why I am passionate about costume design and I sometimes say that being a costume designer is a lot like being a psychoanalyst for fictional people. You must get into their mindset, make the choices they would make. Costume design is all about intimate storytelling, a meticulous work despite the fact the audience might only have a glance to grasp our story. With this article, I aim to interpret these choices of Euphoria, tell you the story I got out of it. Of course, my understanding might be incorrect, but hey, a healthy discussion will never hurt! What do these costumes mean to you?

“Costumes embody the psychological, social and emotional condition of the character at a particular moment in the script.” (Yvonne Blake)

Timing in costume is essential. In 2019 why would these teenagers choose highly specific costumes no one might recognize at a party? What do these characters want to express to the world? Is this self-reflection? And if it is, what does it say about them and their relationships?

Kat

Kat’s choice is a 1981 exploitation thriller by Abel Ferrara, Ms .45. She summarizes it, recommends it, we can even glance at the film’s poster on her phone as a wallpaper. The effort she puts into the costume, too, implies a strong emotional attachment to her film choice. Her emotional journey throughout the series resembles that of Ms .45’s main character, Thana. Kat is introduced as a movie buff, someone who admires and wants to become a strong female character taking over the world, but there was a side of her who watched men in movies in search of romance. Her perspective, however, drastically changes when she comes to the following conclusion:

“That no matter how cool or sexy or smart you think a guy is, they’re actually just fucking pathetic.” (Episode 5: ’03 Bonnie and Clyde)

She starts to own her sexuality. She embraces the person she has been becoming, which is quite the theme in Ms .45. We can draw a parallel between Kat and Thana at the beginning of the series and the film, both characters dress quite plainly. They even have the same haircut. They don’t want to take up much space.

After Kat’s sex video gets exposed without her permission—or even knowledge of this video’s existence—she first panics, then decides to take advantage of it, just like Thana. After Thana gets raped twice and kills her attacker, she goes on a vengeful killing spree against men. At first, she just wants to get rid of the body of her attacker, then makes the killings her mission.

The empowerment comes in the color red: the lipstick, the clothes. Something changed in both characters.

We all have seen witches or vampires at Halloween parties or dressed up as one when we ran out of options or time. Like Heidi Bivens said in an interview with Variety about Ethan

“(…) putting on some vampire teeth, because there is always those people, that person at a party that doesn’t really make much of an effort (…)”

But unlike Ethan, Kat embodied her costume. She had a message. Showrunner Sam Levinson most probably chose Ethan to be a low effort vampire, recreating a scene from Ms .45 (as seen below on the image) with a different ending. Kat’s latex veil, instead of the regular nun veil, and she opened top with the elaborately strapped bra underneath reflects her new “dominatrix” persona. We can even notice a black ribbon on her thigh that evokes Thana’s holster without the gun. Kat’s now-iconic makeup (that inspired thousands of Instagram posts) also gives an extra layer to Kat’s liberation. It is loud, provocative, bold—something new. As Kat’s says in episode five—and I couldn’t agree more:

“There’s nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn’t give a fuck.”

Maddy

Another meticulously detailed costume of the Halloween party is Maddy’s choice. She dresses as Iris, the 12-year-old prostitute from the legendary film Taxi Driver (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese. Her liking of Scorsese’s films is established in episode 5 when Nate presents her the coat from Casino. By the Halloween episode, we know Maddy’s character quite well, although the costume might still seem odd.  Only when I rewatched Taxi Driver did I come to understand this choice. In the scene when Iris wears pink shorts, a cowboy hat, and a rosy light blouse, she says the following about her abusive pimp:

“I can leave whenever I want to (….) Look, I was stoned. That’s why they stopped me. Because when I’m not stoned, I got no place else to go, so they just protect me from myself.

The Halloween episode takes place right after Nate is released from all charges for the attack on Maddy. When wearing this costume, she is more mature, her makeup is more elaborate than Iris’. She wants to establish—maybe only to herself—that she could leave the relationship if she wanted to. Although Nate’s costume wasn’t inspired by movies, I would say the choice was quite daring at the least.

Cassie

Cassie’s choice from the 1993 film True Romance reflects her naïve, slightly messed up conception of what true love is. I found it peculiar she chose an outfit that only shows up for a few seconds in the film. She wants to imitate the few passing moments of happiness and romantic excitement that the protagonists of True Romance experience. Cassie’s color scheme throughout the series revolves around pale pastels and baby blue, just like Alabama Worley’s dresses with excessive cleavages. No matter how innocent and kind of a person she is, she always emphasizes one thing about herself, her beauty, even if she has a lot more to offer. I can see how much Cassie could identify with the prostitute who starves for love and finally gets it. It breaks my heart even to think about her oncoming tragic conversation with “Ted Bundy:”

“You are so fucking boring. Hey. I’m gonna be honest with you, because no one else will. Any guy who says he’s interested in you beyond just fucking you, is full of shit.” (Episode 6: The Next Episode)

Rue

Rue’s choice imitates Marlene Dietrich’s androgynous look from the 1930 film Morocco. When I first saw the episode, I was wondering why she would choose this particular outfit. Even though its significance in film history is immense, the choice wouldn’t make sense to the Rue I thought I knew at first glance. But after watching the series for a second time, I realized Rue was probably watching old movies with her father while he was sick in bed and her current happiness with Jules reminded her of that comfort and uncertainty. Although there might be another aspect to consider: She wanted to impress Jules. Rue actually put effort into her outfit (which was something she didn’t do often in the series), even if she opted for a little boy’s tuxedo. Jules is high culture, unique, so Rue tried to become all that for Halloween night—a person Jules would like. Cultured and sober, someone who doesn’t belong in that “fucking boring” town, someone who embraces who she is—someone like Jules. This becomes quite visible when they are apart in episode 7, and Rue becomes her old comfortable self in her own comfortable clothes.

“The truth is, I don’t want good TV. I don’t want a novel, or some slow burn, or anything that feels like work. That’s why I love reality TV. It’s funny, it’s dramatic and I can focus on it. It’s pure, effortless entertainment.” (Episode 7, The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed)

Rue regresses to her depression and old habits, justifying her decisions.

Jules

Jules’ choice was from the 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrmann. The film choice captures her personality’s essence with the vintage white dress and exact replica of the wings. She wants more, something different but with the same core values as in the tale as old as the time of true passionate love and expression. Her makeup also seems to be inspired by the Capulet parents of the 1996 film (the gold on the cheeks of the father and teary gold on the mother). Jules is unique, with complicated background and emotions, just like the modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.

The makers of Euphoria also recreated the pool scene from Romeo and Juliet, although as Rue is not dressed as Romeo, we feel that Jules is missing something. Especially when Rue doesn’t recognize when she is quoting from Romeo and Juliet and tells her to stop the nonsense.  The choice of Jules becoming Juliet predicts their relationship’s inevitable change. As Jules puts it—or rather hallucinates it,

“I know this isn’t going to end well.” (Episode 7, The Trials and Tribulations of Trying to Pee While Depressed)

All in All

It was my absolute pleasure to revisit Euphoria and the films that inspired its creation instead of working on my own Halloween costume. I wish everyone a spooky but safe Halloween, and even though this year we have the pandemic going on, at least we can have the time to binge on some incredible works of art.


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