Sunday, October 9, 2011

Elegy

By Sati. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , ,
(112 min, 2008)
Director: Isabel Coixet
Writers: Nicholas Meyer (screenplay), Philip Roth (novel)
Stars: Ben Kingsley, Penélope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson
The biggest surprise in a man's life is old age.
(spoilers)
David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) is growing old. He's a professor of literature, a student of American hedonism, and an amateur musician and photographer. When he finds attractive Consuela (Penelope Cruz), a 24-year-old Cuban and his student, he sets out to seduce her.

Isabel Coixet makes the most beautiful movies about dying. “Elegy” is based on the novel “The Dying Animal” by Philip Roth – it is centered around older man who is aware of his age and how fast the life is running away from him. Kepesh is self-centered, hedonistic and arrogant man who at first just wants to sleep with Consuela. But with time he will be enchanted by her – in the first few weeks he will treat her as any other trophy – he adores her, calls her “work of art”, is jealous of her, follows her. He behaves as “child being possessive of its toys”. But it's only after losing her, because of his fear, immaturity and the lack of courage to face the real world consequences of being with someone, he will realize how much she meant to him.
The character of David is not very likeable, but because of terrific work from Ben Kingsley you really want to know what will happen to him and at some points of the movie, you wish what will happen is good. He may be egoistic, but which one of us isn't. He is frustrated with the passing time so he creates his life to be as pleasurable as it may be. Can he blamed for that? No. At least he is being honest – he leaves his marriage when it stops working out for him, which is not a good thing, but at least it's an honest thing. But he doesn't realize he escapes one prison to build another one, one he will not even know he's locked up in – his own illusion of control. He creates the “perfect” relationship with his friend Caroline (amazing Patricia Clarkson), with whom he was sleeping for the past 20 years. It works for him and for her too. But this haze, this illusion of things working out must perish at some point and it does. That's when David and Caroline have their first real conversation – real because they don't hide they fears and regrets, because they finally are honest to each other.

It is very clear why David wants to sleep with Consuela but as for her motives it is quite unknown. He is more than 30 years older than her and so far she had very conventional relationships with men. When she meets David, she is still very childish, she barely had any sexual encounters and she is sweet, charming, young girl entering the adult life. Her relationship with Kepesh teaches her things, not only about art – which David talks about often, but also introduces her to adulthood – where not everything is perfect, where people have secrets and build facades to hide their real selves. After a while, Consuela breaks things off with David and appears again, after many years, fearing death herself.

The movie has cruel irony in it – David didn't want anything real with Consuela because he was convinced one day she will realize how big the age difference is between them and she will want to spend her life with someone younger and more suitable for her. This all happens because of that automatic assessment everyone of us makes not to lose our minds – that we will all live to old age. But it's not the case. Cancer can happen, stroke can happen, car accident can happen. We may be dead when we are 90 years old but just as easily we can be gone tomorrow. The irony lies in the fact that because of her disease Consuela is now closer to death than Kepesh is. And what is old age really if not approaching natural death faster and faster with each second? So when she says “I feel older than you” in some ways she is exactly right.

I very much liked how the things worked out in the movie with David's friend George who used life probably even more than David – George had a family, but he still cheated and did everything he wanted. When he has a stroke who is there for him? His wife. How terrible the guilt must be that in the end the person standing next to you, supporting you is someone you hurt so badly and didn't appreciate fully. That's why the last attempts George makes to communicate is kissing his wife and David passionately. It is the only mean left for him to express his love and how grateful he is for them. I'm a romantic I chose this interpretation. Of course it is possible that George just confused them with one of his young lovers, but that is what I suspect the cynics of this world will see in that scene.

The acting is wonderful and very realistic. Kingsley delivers very strong performance as a man who despite having many flaws doesn't differ much from, what I imagine, we all would be capable to do. I suspect since we have a great chance of only having one life, trying to live it to its fullest, even if that means occasionally hurting others is a selfish thing to do, but also understandable and justified for me. We all try to banish death – we can't do it when we are dying or sick, but we can banish it from our minds. Cruz was unremarkable, she fits the part, but the only time I was truly impressed by her acting was in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. I didn't find her Consuela interesting and I thought Patricia Clarkson is about hundred times more fascinating and beautiful than Cruz will ever be. The movie also includes Peter Sarsgaard who is basically a talking prop here, Dennis Hopper who delivers good performance and few actors seen in other Coixet's movies.

This film is a careful portrait of a flawed man, who copes with his fears without even realizing how crippling they are. It's about a man who made difficult choices and who is aware of the damage he done. But as with other Coixet's movies it shows one thing clearly – You should appreciate what you have while you have it. And when you have chance at love, even if it's doomed and not meant to last forever – don't screw up, no matter how afraid you may be.

76/100

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