The colour blue in Get on the Bus is closely linked to a way of seeing, and more specifically a way of seeing through.
We first encounter blue through X’s handheld camera. Here, Lee intersperses brief shots of the men on the bus, as X sees them through the lens of his camcorder, into the “normal” film footage. The question X invariably leads with as he sticks his camera in their faces is “why are you going to the Million Man March?” As the men answer, frequently sharing a deeply personal story as they do so, the colour blue becomes associated with this idea of seeing through the men, beyond who they present themselves to be, into an inner space where they reveal intimate memories and experiences.
The blue of X’s handheld camera introduces us to notions of privacy and vulnerability, and subsequently Lee’s own cinematography becomes tinted with blue during especially vulnerable and intimate moments.
At a rest stop, blue appears when Jeremiah ducks into a bathroom to take a handful of pills:
The vulnerability of this scene is not immediately obvious during a first viewing of the film, but with the knowledge that Jeremiah had been keeping the severity of his heart condition a secret from the other men during the whole of the journey, the blue in this scene takes on a more significant poignance.
Another otherworldly scene awash in blue is the reconciliation of Earl and his son Smooth:
Considering Earl’s general reluctance to discuss the rift between him and his son in front of the other men, it felt to me entirely appropriate to have this scene lit in blue. The blue of the woods signals a private space for them to come to terms with their past relationship and move on to a new one. While we know that the other men are also running through the woods looking for Smooth and shouting his name, it never seems as though any of them will interrupt this heartfelt moment. The blue space is a private space.
The final example of blue representing interiority and privacy comes right after the bus has been stopped and searched by Tennessee state troopers. The preceding scene (beginning 1:19:55), where the police officers enter the bus and shine their torchlights on the faces of each of the men in turn, was for me intensely uncomfortable to watch in tandem with “People Get Ready,” a deeply spiritual song of hope and inspiration by The Impressions, playing on the soundtrack.
When the police leave, we again see the men’s faces lit up individually, but this time it is in blue. Each of them have experienced the police raid slightly differently, and Lee pulls out the richest blue in all of the film to illuminate their time of haunted contemplation. These shots are for me the most beautiful in the film, and I wanted to indulgently post all of them here: