Before and After: How Color Helps Tell the Two Stories of ’13 Reasons Why’

Two stories, two timelines, two filters.
By  · Published on May 16th, 2017

When you’re telling a story that takes equal place in two different time periods, cluing the viewer in to which time is which without blatantly spelling it out becomes a game of visual narration. Take 13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s latest hot-button original series that unfolds its narrative from two distinct temporal perspectives: the first from before its heroine Hannah commits suicide, the second after. These two threads interweave throughout every episode with no spoken shift, rather a series of image-based tells: signage in school hallways, Clay’s head wound, other characters’ clothing and appearance, and something far more subtle, almost insidious – the very color of the frame.

See, in the timeline that takes place before Hannah’s death, the series uses a yellow camera filter to make the colors particularly bright and vibrant, while in the timeline after Hannah’s death, a blue filter is used to mute all vibrancy and instill a shadowy sense of gloom over the narrative. These filters act as emotional cues for us in the audience and inform how we feel about a scene before the first line of dialogue is spoken or action taken.

In the following comparative supercut from Celia Gomez, similar scenes from both timelines have been set side-by-side to reveal the discrepancy in their depiction.


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