A Single Man

A Single Man

Film review by: Witney Seibold

November 30th, 1962. Suburban America. Nice suits, nice dresses, nice makeup, nice hair. There’s George, the nice, single man across the way. Hello George. Isn’t it nice the way he’s always so clean? He teaches at the local college. He’s English, you know. A little light in the loafers, and perhaps a little stiff, but, really, he’s a good neighbor. And he lives with that nice young boy. You know his name, the really clean-cut attractive boy. Jim, that’s his name. George lives with Jim. No no. George is single. I think Jim in single, too. I never see them entertain any ladies…

“A Single Man,” written and directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, and based on the book by Christopher Isherwood, is a heart-wrenching tragedy, a melancholy meditation, a stirring comment on gay life in the ‘60s, and one of the best films of the year.

It follows George (Colin Firth) upon the death of his lover, Jim (Matthew Goode). They were deeply in love, but George is still seen by his neighbors (who, in glances, seem to resemble the Wheelers from “Revolutionary Road”) as a mere single man, who just happened to live with a roommate. George is denied permission to attend Jim’s funeral. He is told it’s a family affair. Even George’s best friend, the flighty alcoholic British ex-pat Charley (Julianne Moore), felt that, even though they had lived together for years, and she knew they were lovers, that Jim and George were just waiting for the right woman to come along.

Colin Firth gives one of the finer performances I have seen in the role of George. George is a straightlaced fortysomething who, while gay, has clearly struggled with how out he wants to be. Partly because it’s not acceptable to be too out in early ‘60s America, but also because he’s not entirely comfortable being so emotionally vulnerable to another person. He expresses his love, but it has to be in a guarded fashion. There is clearly a lot weighing on him. Society, but also his usual fears.

When Jim dies, George loses all color in his life. Figuratively and literally; the color of the film becomes muted and grey. The light seems to hang still in the air. Only in brief moments of unexpected creature comforts does the color seem to briefly surge.

The color in his life also surges when he talks to an unexpectedly bright student of his named Kenny (Nicholas Hoult). Kenny, while young, seems to be one of the only ones who knows what George is talking about in his lectures. Kenny is also friendly, and offers drugs to George in a show of youthful solidarity. Kenny may be gay, but it’s not made strictly explicit. The tension between the older man and the student is, however, not without its sexuality.

The film takes place over a single day, and we se the journey George makes. The dinner he has with Charley. What will George do with his life? We will see.

In addition to being emotionally honest, realistically tragic, and unabashedly poetic, “A Single Man” is also gorgeous to behold. Ford, the director, was once a fashion designer, so he is preoccupied with how the film looks. Every hairstyle, suit and pair of glasses was, no doubt, painstakingly agonized over. This is one of the best designed films you’ll see. And, given the way Ford uses color, you begin to feel awash in the heady emotions of George’s life through the beauty of the visuals.

The film was based on a book by Christopher Isherwood, who, as I learned from the documentary “Chris & Don: A Love Story,” suffered through a lot of what George did. His lover didn’t die, but he was a gay man living in a time when being gay wasn’t necessarily talked about. He did have a lover, Don Bachardy, decades his junior. Surely the fear of his younger lover dying before him was a fear he lived with every day (as is, I imagine, one that rests with any aged-mismatched couple). It’s hardly a requirement, but the more you know about Isherwood, I think, the more you’ll like this movie.

I encourage you to see “A Single Man.” You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

Published in: on January 27, 2010 at 10:48 am  Leave a Comment  

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