Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is an a-student, valedictorian and former child soldier. He’s also star athlete in track and field, and his love of running begs the question, is he running towards a future or from a traumatic past?
Naomi Watts and Tim Ross are Amy and Peter, parents of Luce, a child they adopted at age seven from war-torn Horn of Africa country Eritrea. Years of therapy and love from his attentive American family seem to have paid off. He is, in his own words, “a Black kid who overcame his past; an example of how America works.” Popular, driven and smart, outwardly he is the very picture of a perfect student. The first sign that something may be wrong comes with a phone call from teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer). Seems when Luce was asked to write an essay about one of his heroes he chose Frantz Fanon, a revolutionary psychiatrist who believed in the role of violence by activists in conducting decolonization struggles. Concerned that Luce, a youngster who learned to shoot a gun before learning to drive, harbors some deeply rooted violence, the teacher raids Luce’s locker only to find fireworks with the power of a shotgun blast.
Reporting the findings to Amy and Peter, Wilson puts into motion the questioning of everything the parents thought they knew about their son. Is he secretly a radical, a terrorist? Is the paper miscommunication or provocation? Or, does Harriet Wilson have a vendetta against Luce?
“Luce” is a puzzle, a movie that has more questions than answers. We are never sure who is telling the truth or why they might be lying. It keeps the viewer off balance, questioning race, class and whether Luce is victim or sociopath. Harrison delivers a performance bathed in charisma. He’s fascinating to watch as he leaves situations and his actions open for interpretation, creating a performance that will leave you guessing.
By the end “Luce” feels like a collection of loose ends waiting to be tied onto a bow that never comes. It’s a complicated psychodrama that revels in its ambiguities and, most interestingly, should be a post theatre conversation starter on topics of the pressure to be perfect, white privilege and trust.