Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Single man

By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , ,
(99 min, 2009)
Plot: A story that centers on an English professor who, one year after the sudden death of his partner, is unable to cope with his typical days in 1960's Los Angeles.
Director: Tom Ford
Writers: Tom Ford (written for the screen by), David Scearce (written for the screen by)
Stars: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode


When I first heard of „A Single Man” I knew I need to see this movie. Then I heard the soundtrack and I couldn't wait. I waited for many months, so there was a very big risk of disappointed. And after seeing the film I was in awe. Not only did it met my expectations, it was actually so much more. I heard a lot of good things about the performances and the movie itself but to actually see it and admire it first hand was unforgettable experience.

The movie shows one day of George's life. He is a modest, elegant, educated professor. He lives alone, his students and neighbors like him, maybe even too much. He is polite, reasonable, handsome. On the surface you couldn't say there is something going on. But eight months before the day presented in the movie George lost Jim, his lover, with whom he spent 16 happy years of his life.

First thing that stroke me is that the movie was set in 1962 yet the issue of discrimination against gay people was not shown at all. It was so refreshing, finally to see a movie that doesn't stress that homosexuals are outsiders in some way. I am a big supporter of equal rights and the movie shows how it's supposed to be. There are discussions would the plot be so much different if George weren't gay. I think not. The biggest argument for the people who say it is crucial was that he was not allowed to come on his boyfriend's funeral. But from what I had gathered in the book (the film is based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood) George simply chose not to attend. The way I see it there is no difference when it comes to love. When it comes to lost. We all hurt exactly the same when we lose someone who was the most important person for us, regardless of our orientation or whether we suffer alone or openly. Nothing can ease pain, but time and it is the same for everyone.
George finds out about Jim's death over the phone, when his cousin calls him (John Hamm's voice, „Mad Men” fans know exactly who he is). The scene is incredible and it's pretty much the only scene in the whole movie where reserved George loses himself completely. Very powerful sequence, almost crushing.

The movie presents just one day in this man's life and that is the first similarity between this and „The Hours” that I noticed, the second being the suicide, the third being the importance of interactions with other people. This day is not like any other – George decides he wants to end his life. He prepares letter for his close ones, his best friend Charlotte, his housekeeper. He prepares the suit for his own funeral, the keys, the will and the gun. And then he simply goes to work.

George is clearly adored by his students, especially one – Kenny. The boy seems to like George more than he should and George doesn't mind. Why would he if he decided not to be there tomorrow. But by the series of occurrences – the accidental meeting with Spanish guy named Carlos, the conversation with neighbor's daughter and with Charlotte and Kenny George's way of looking at the world will finally get him to reach life saving conclusions.

On his last day George meets with his friend Charlotte (Julianne Moore). Charlotte is a bit of an alcoholic, she was left by her husband and she loves George in the way he could never reciprocate. The scene were two of them are dancing to wonderful „Stormy Weather” is unforgettable. But Charlotte becomes demanding and worse yet, she says the relationship between Jim and George was a substitute for the real thing. From the many flashbacks we see it not to be true. The only moments in the movie were George doesn't seem incredibly sad are the ones he spends with Jim and the final realization. Everything else is just pretending. It's the day of his planned suicide but he is still answering student's questions, discussing politics, making jokes, smiling, flirting and being the perfect gentlemen. But some things are different – he appears to „see” the receptionist in the school for the first time, he notices the relations between Kenny and his own Charlotte – the girl Kenny can never truly love, he agrees on something completely crazy – swimming naked in the ocean with his student.

The swimming motive is actually what starts the movie. Drowning to be exact. As if George was drowning without love, without Jim, without something that made his life right, important, valuable. He daydreams about it during his lecture as if he wanted to drown completely, disappear. It is ironic, and it is not the first irony in the film, that after he will actually be drowning during the swim with Kenny, he will realize how valuable life itself, moments we have are.
George sees himself in Kenny – both having important woman in their life, but wanting men, both smart, going after they want. Kenny is not the only reason for George's change of heart, but he is the crucial part. I believe that if it wasn't for their meeting George would still carry on with his plan. And not just because Kenny took the gun. George realizes that there are many beautiful moments in his life yet to come and he cannot give up. He says”
”A few times in my life I've had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.”
After the day filled with so many great moments, where all the people around him appeared to be concerned about him, how could he just give up? He seems truly happy, finally. And then the big irony hits us – George has heart attack. He falls on the floor, in pain, helpless, but in the few brief moments before his death Jim appears to kiss him, as George did in his own dream. As if he was waiting for him on the other side. The last line says „...and just like that, they came”. I'm puzzled over this, but I interpret George's words as the way of saying all those moments flashed before his eyes and maybe he even got the chance to re-experience them again.
The visual side of the film, and by that I mean Eduard Graud's cinematography is stellar. I cannot believe that movie didn't receive the most important awards for this work and what I cannot believe even more is that some people call it „tacky”. I found it to be extremely original and very charming in its simplicity – whenever George interacts with people or things they come into focus – become more colorful, lively. Rose is more red, faces are more vivid, colors are more saturated. Also in the final scene as life leaves George's body it becomes paler. In other words the saturation represents life, emotions, the moments George is describing in his last words.

Abel Korzeniowski created music for this film. I haven't heard of this composer before, although I am polish and we cherish our composers here – we don't have many but they are fantastic. His music is my second favorite from 2009 soundtracks, right after Hans Zimmer's Sherlock Holmes. „A Single man” score is heavenly - „Daydreams” and „And just like that” are some of the most beautiful tracks I've heard. The second composer for the movie was Shigeru Umebayashi – his pieces are darker, not quite as light as Korzeniowski, but both composers created very consistent and enchanting kind of beauty. The music makes movie almost magical, few times during the film I was on verge of tears and if it wasn't for the score I don't think the scenes would have such a great impact on me. Additional music is also wonderful and very elegant. This is definitely in my top 10 of music scores.

The movie is directed by Tom Ford, fashion designer. I truly hope he will direct more films because this one is close to masterpiece. I read Ford was a complete professional whilst shooting the movie and you couldn't really say that this is his debut. The actors seem perfectly guided, the whole thing is remarkably directed and presented. Fantastic job. I'm ashamed for the Academy, how could they give Oscar for such butchered and massacred directing by what's-her-name for “The Hurt Locker”. Really? Not even a nomination for Ford? Awards and good movies don't go hand in hand, apparently.
I kept changing my opinion about who should got Academy Award for best Actor last year. First it was the unbreakable Michael Sheen for “The Damned United”. Then it was lovely Clooney for “Up in the Air”. Then of course it was Downey Jr for his (I will use that word and no one can stop me) iconic work in “Sherlock Holmes”. And I have to say that I would have to split Oscar in half and give one to Robert and other to Colin Firth for what he did here. Amazing. I cannot even describe it, you have to see it with your own eyes. This is one of the most complex performances I've seen. And a complete shocker – Firth was always good but I thought he will always remain Mark Darcy for me, not the “Pride and Prejudice” one but “Bridget Jones's Diary” one, in reindeer sweater, making string soup and throwing Hugh Grant through the window. What a performance, he portrays sadness, attraction, despair...but the final moments of the film – that is just mind blowing. The look on his face when he realizes he wants to keep on living is something I will never forget. He is the soul of this movie.
The rest of the cast doesn't come close to Firth, but Moore is as usual fantastic. I, again as when I was watching “Chloe” cannot believe she is 50. She appears not to age. And the dancing scene? My God, I couldn't dance like that and I'm in my twenties. She is superbly vibrant and lively in her role and she looks amazing. The two love interests are played by Nicholas Hoult (Kenny) and Jon Kortajarena (Carlos), if I remember correctly one of Ford's models. First one is rather annoying, but tolerable and the second one is gorgeous enough for me not to bother with his acting. Jim is played by Matthew Goode, he appeared in many great movies lately. He is very, very good and he plays the role exactly as George describes his partner – joyful, loving the world around him.

That movie is a must see. As soon as I watched it, “A Single Man” entered my top 20. I cannot even say where will I place it since it was more moving than “Brokeback Mountain” (The film that's also among my favorites), given that the focus of the film is set on something we all experience – loss, fear, love. The story is actually incredibly universal and it made me reflect on a lot of things. Now that is what the best films do – they stay with you long after you saw them. Just like those moments that show you no matter how fallen apart your world is there is always a chance for happiness and you should hang on to it, while you still can.


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