Finally, explicitly, we focus on their color, a fleshy, gender-intense but sexless tone with a hue just strong enough to demand further attention. The shade is confrontational even on first blush, and not much later—after Bob’s wife sends him a trans-Pacific package of barely differentiated carpet swatches—Coppola uses incident to confirm our suspicion that the color in her film is expressly communicative. Is all of that color inherent to the fabric, or is some of it glowing from beneath? And why pink?
The image explicitly forbids patterns. Every object in the room is solid and stable, thus limiting Charlotte’s available wardrobe options. Black panties would have been titillating and impenetrable, perhaps even draping the entire film in a patina of illicit sex that might have gotten tongues wagging at the expense of the sensitivity required to appreciate the relationship Bob forms with Charlotte. Beige would have been mute— hosiery the color of Johansson’s skin—white too innocent and clear, but pink speaks to a fundamental girlhood that Coppola’s films have all attempted to name.
For Coppola, pink isn’t a color so much as a feminine stop-loss between being young and being happy. In The Virgin Suicides, pink was the air of impenetrability that covered the Lisbon girls like an irremovable veil. In Marie Antoinette, pink arrived as tiered cakes and frivolous attitude, humanizing a young queen entrusted with an angry nation, and in Somewhere, which was effectively a man’s tale, Coppola personified the color into a character, allowing it to grow and take its ultimate form in the shape of a Fanning sister. Johnny Marco’s daughter personified the best of himself that he had allowed to wither, sacrificed to a world intent on using him up. For these women, pink is a problem to be solved or make public, a private ideal they struggle to preserve and share. Indeed, the broader the context in which one considers Charlotte’s underwear, the less those Arax panties feel like a costume department’s quasi-arbitrary decision or a scrap from the bottom of Scarlett Johansson’s luggage. In fact, the story goes that Coppola was so insistent upon Charlotte wearing this particular undergarment that, to convince her shy actress to wear them, the director modeled them herself.