The previous shot also introduces us to the theme of tunnels, or portals. Passing through time and space inside the gem, we are transported from the Welo mines to New York City, or the inside of Howard’s colon, to be exact. The only other time we explicitly enter the gem is when Garnett peers into it for the first time only to see his life flash before his eyes, the gem a portal into his past. One could also argue we enter the gem after we enter Howie at the end, the hole in his face a tunnel that runs through the gem and into the afterlife.
This red, neon-striped club tunnel, however, is by far the coolest literal tunnel in the movie. I don’t point it out to harp on the meaning of red, but to emphasize the way the Safdies consistently use color in concert with theme. Here, we have a dark, villainous, Darth Vader-y tunnel that takes Howie from the main club to the VIP lounge where his girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) is getting better acquainted with The Weeknd, one of many mini-bosses Howie must defeat to face Bowser (read: Phil).
The wiry red neon signals the passion and anger that’s soon to burst from Howard in the form of a physical altercation, and the red-streak tunnel, as a whole, mirrors the inside of the gem. The vertical tubes are also an exact match to the red neon tubes we see running up the wall in his apartment when he surprises Julia. There, red denotes a different kind of passion but is still associated with Julia. In other words, the color and nature of the tunnel points to the endgame.
When Demany (Lakeith Stanfield) disappears into the Celtics locker room, he does so down a black and gray tunnel and we never find out where he goes. When anyone enters the brightly lit jewelry shop, they go through the sterile, glistening marble hallway, a sign of luxury. When Howard walks through a scaffolding tunnel, he has an amicable chat with his Diamond District pals just before the Safdies cut to the extended family at Seder dinner.
In the gemology world, the spectacular hues of black opal are referred to as “play-of-color,” a term that applies just as uniquely here. Demany’s tiger orange jacket glows in the blacklight, casting an incandescent red on everyone around him in one of the more memorable color plays on celluloid this side of the century. The neon of it all is captivating, no doubt, but stopping there would be taking the image at face value.
When compared to the interior image of the gem, one can see how the Safdies use color to re-create that cosmological aura in the real world. Suddenly, Demany is the orange speckle from the gem swarming blue in the club. Instead of plunging into the rock, we’ve plunged into the club. Howard has just found out that Demany left the gem with Garnett again, and he’s furious. If it weren’t for Demany’s crew, Howard would’ve been kicked out for brawling before he ever knew Julia was in the bathroom with The Weeknd.
Like the interior opal shot, this one follows a split complementary color scheme, piercing orange and pinkish-red sitting across the color wheel from Egyptian blues that verge on purple. The continuity of the colors across the film makes them thematically associative. The blue draped over the club still evokes Howard’s cold, cruel behavior along with the profound sadness he will eventually fess up to (“I’m so sad; I’m so fucked up”).
Darker shades of blue are also associated with pessimism and hypocrisy, concepts Howard has all but mastered. Here, he harangues Demany for not having the rock despite blatantly screwing over those he’s indebted to on a daily basis. Later, when the situation flips, so do the colors. The next day, Demany screams at Howie for running Garnett rampant, not having the championship ring, and loaning out the watches he was trying to sell. While Howard takes a phone call, Demany pours a drink into the aquarium, turning the water into the same shade of red that reflects from his jacket, which takes over the tank and is complemented by peripheral deep blues.
Back to this scene, the vivid fuchsia hair behind Howard is an extreme shade of pink that alludes to the hyper-emotional spirit of the club sequence and Howie’s inability to control himself. It stands in opposition to the kinder shade of pink that adorns his showroom and makes him feel at home.
The KMH Gems & Jewelry showroom has a lot to offer by way of color. To start, it looks like a Kardashian Easter in there: pastel pink and yellow, bright whites, chrome, gold, luxury dangling from the walls, monotoned navy jewelry stands, blossomed flowers. It’s too messy to determine a clean color scheme, but we can interpret the colors into the ground, specifically the blush pink, canary yellow, and white.
The shop is also chock full of glass that creates the thematic illusion of transparency, which couldn’t be more absent from a place than it is from KMH. This is Howard’s swindling hub after all. Like he is (or, in this case, was) a living, breathing obfuscation of honesty, the reflective glass around the shop is an obfuscation of fluorescence that keeps the place glowing, even when he’s dead and gone and there’s blood on the walls. Fluorescence is light at its most extreme, most unrelenting, and least tolerable. It matches Howard in that. Phil, too.
Here, we see the putridly evil Phil (Keith William Richards) pillaging the shop for his loot after delivering one of the most notorious shocks in modern film history: a bullet that sends an elated Howard to his grave. If you were lucky enough to see
Uncut Gems in theaters, the sound of the gunshot was probably drowned out by the shrieks it precipitated. But at least Howard died at home.
While KMH is probably none of these things to most of us, to Howard it’s calming, secure, and familiar, sentiments evoked by more delicate shades of pink. When Howard can’t go home because of a bloody nose, he goes to KMH. When he hits rock bottom after the auction goes south, he goes to KMH. When he needs to focus, he goes to KMH. There, he is in control. He has hope. He might even prefer it to his actual home.
The white neon rods turn into a rosy glow the further we get from the center of them, both colors matching the beautiful flowers centered ironically on a doubly murderous Phil. The white flowers with yellow centers nearly blend into Phil’s inverse-colored button-down. White is often associated with sterility, which is ever-present here, but it’s also connected to businesses and institutions, and no one means business more than Phil, hence wearing a shirt crowned by a stiff white collar. And, if you’re secretly happy about Howard’s death for Julia’s sake, white happens to represent new beginnings.
Yellow, on the other hand, signals impatience, egotism, cowardice, impulsion, and spite, all of which apply to the combustible Phil. I hate to kick him while he’s down, but they apply to Howard. He lays just below the screen, mouth slightly agape, his small, black, rimless glasses directing the attention away from his wide eyes and into the bullet-carved tunnel in his cheek that will lead us into the infinite beyond.