BluRay/DVD Reviews

A SINGLE MAN

By • Jul 25th, 2010 •

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A SINGLE MAN explores a day in the grieving process of a person who has recently lost his spouse to a terrible car accident. Since the film is set in 1962 and the couple in question is gay, this grief is deeply closeted, as was the relationship. Colin Firth plays George Falconer, a British professor working at a Los Angeles University. He learns of his lover’s demise through a surreptitious phone call, as the parents of Jim (Matthew Goode) do not even want to acknowledge that their son knew the man. Some months later, after enduring frequent dreams of the bodies of his dog and his lover artfully arranged in snow and blood, George can’t take it anymore, and, in a stiff-upper-lippish way, he decides to commit suicide. The movie follows him as he prepares to live and die on this, the last day of his life.

I haven’t read the same-titled novel by Christopher Isherwood, but the movie certainly embodies its name. This is a man trying to navigate the shoals of grief all alone, in part because his homosexuality isolates him, although it doesn’t take much effort to look at this as a universal statement of the inherent isolation that swaddles individuals who have endured tragedy. If George could only switch his perspective he would see that his life is quite crowded with well meaning people who want to share his burden–his ex-girlfriend Charley (Julianne Moore) who yearns for him. His support staff, his housekeeper, his colleagues. His students. But none of them can break through the emotional armor that protects his misery. Not, that is, until he’s made up his mind to end it all. Then, suddenly, he notices the small things that he has been too numb to notice; his neighbor’s daughter dancing on the lawn, the weary concern on the face of his stoic housekeeper Alva (Paulette Lamori), and most especially, a young man, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) from one of his classes. Kenny is very drawn to the professor–adulation bordering on creepy stalking–but, nonetheless, he manages to pull George back toward vibrancy.

This is an elegantly understated film. The performances are very reined in but deeply expressive. Colin Firth is compelling, his despair, and later, his pale green hope, peeking out from behind a nearly impassive facade. Although the film centers on using external events and images to express one person’s inner journey, it reveals the desires and disappointments of others with sparse eloquence. For example, the arc of Julianne Moore’s character–beautiful woman who expects to get what she wants, morphing into middle aged woman desperately trying to figure out what she wants–is revealed through nuances of design and body language, rather than verbal exposition. Check out the mirror image of Charley putting on elaborate make-up; one side of her face done to a tee, the other washed out and naked.

And yet. . . Why does this film seem so surfacey and overly studious in spite of all its good qualities? Well, I would venture that it is because Tom Ford, a first time director, is, in his “real life” a highly successful haute couture designer. If you look him up online you will see the meticulous man himself, surrounded by his boldly clothed gorgeous models, all of whom know how to pose enigmatically, whether or not they know how to act. What I am suggesting here is that, after a lifetime spent in fashion, Mr. Ford may know too much about how to signify that something deeply important is going on, even when the only thing going on is a schmatta sale.

Listening to the commentary track included with the DVD confirms this hypothesis. Mr. Ford talks about how he chose and arranged the objects that were to appear in each frame, re-colored significant portions of the film to connote the main character’s state of mind, and labeled the symbolism of each fleeting image. In the end, the tight constraints on the design of this piece make it less interesting and meaningful than it would have been had spontaneity let some air into the project.

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One Response »

  1. Thanks for your review, I agree with you about how each frame of the film was individually styled. Watching this film, all its colours and co-ordinations, is just amazing. I wrote my own review if you’d like to read it:
    http://obsessionandstuff.blogspot.com/2010/08/single-man.html

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