Would you ever suspect that you would love a film by a fashion designer turned first time director? I didn’t quite know what to expect from Tom Ford as he told his version of the book, A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. I knew from the trailer that everyone was going to look their very best, but not much more until I sat down to watch it.
A Single Man is the story of George, an English professor in 1962 that has recently lost his partner of 16 years to a car accident. With the disapproving family not allowing him to attend the funeral, George is left to fester in his own pain for 8 months. When he wakes up from yet another painful night of memories, he decides to end his life and we spend the rest of the film watching George live his last day with moments of clarity.
We see George in almost every scene in the film and get little bits from other great actors here and there like Julianne Moore, who plays Charley, his neighbor and best friend, who he has been very close to for years. We spend the most time with her and she does not disappoint. Charley has come over to California from London as well as George and so they have a past. She spends her days passing the time with a bottle of gin or applying makeup, but when she has George over, she is also very attentive and a true friend while still getting drunk. Matthew Goode plays Jim, the deceased partner and lover, and we get to know him from George’s flashbacks. He seems to be just perfect with George. They seem to literally complete each other. Every flashback of Jim will put a smile on your face.
Ginnifer Goodwin plays a nice neighbor and Lee Pace stops in as a co-worker at school. Both parts are very brief and I would have loved more of each. They are both great actors and even in the few scenes we see them in, we could see a history with George. I love Ginnifer in Big Love and she seemed just as warm to George in this film. Just with a kind hello or a smile in her eyes, you could see that they knew each other more than we get to see. I imagined that when her husband went to work, she would have him over for tea or something completely innocent like that. Lee Pace was in one of my favorite movies, The Fall and I was actually taken back by the utter lack of use of his character. He completely fit the look of the other characters as well and already has a sixties look. Kenny comes along, played by Nicholas Hoult, who you may remember from About a Boy with Hugh Grant. He is almost all grown up now and not afraid to approach his professor and ask him some very personal questions.
As George tries to get through the day so that he can get home and get things in order, many things get in the way, life. He begins to talk with his student Kenny in a way that might be more romantic rather than a professional relationship, and he spends a few hours with Charley over dinner and drinks reminiscing their lives apart. Much of this film is spent making the viewer feel like a fly on the wall in George’s life. At points in the story, there is dead silence, only the sounds of a real life and we are immersed in his world. Other times in flashbacks, the pain is so much, that the noise is deafening. Ford shows us this by muting the most upsetting parts of his life and leaving us just the images to be burned into our minds.
This is not your every day, mainstream kind of film. This is a film directed to a certain audience and open minded story lovers. Ford chose to shoot this very artistically and seems to blend black and white scenes seamlessly with color scenes and then completely drain the color in front of your eyes. This is a film that will immerse your soul and use all of your senses to encompass the nature of the story. The symbolism is very faint at times, yet so prominent. A gay man in the sixties is an invisible man, yet he chooses to live in a glass house. The world outside of the memories he holds with Jim are very sterile and bland. Every scene is very gray and dull and seems lifeless. Until these moments of clarity come in and almost instantly, there will be a burst of color that everyone will appreciate.
At times, the cinematography was so great, I thought I might be witnessing a perfume commercial in Italy, in the way that Chanel No. 5 would entice you to purchase their product to become beautiful and stunning, Ford entices you to become visually intrigued with the characters. The colors and close ups of the opening scenes are where this is felt the most. There is a dream sequence that I am speaking of, specifically, that seems like it puts you in a daze. Sometimes, the shots were so tight on a conversation, I felt uncomfortable. I wished for a break from the reality and wanted to pull back, but in the end, I’m glad Ford kept my eyes glued to the scenes. In this way, it truly feels like seeing through the eyes of another. The way he looks at someone else may not be how you would see them, but it’s refreshing to have a risky director give it all to show that to us.
A Single Man does have a bit of a slow start just for some character development, but about midway in, we get some humor and the tone begins to change and from there, it blazes toward a fantastic finale! Oh, I wish I could talk about the symbolism in the end of the film with you and discuss the story coming full circle in the end, it was just wonderful.
As far as the wardrobe and set design goes, it was completely accurate. Any one who is completely in love with the show Mad Men will be intrigued by this film. Though there are similarities here, A Single Man added sophistication in the men’s clothing, seeing that Tom Ford has his own line of men’s fashions. I had my reservations about Tom Ford directing a film, but all of it flew out the window after seeing A Single Man. I have no fear in stating that he has a career in film, even if it may be a small niche that he will fit into.
Most of all, I hope that people will open their minds to this story and not be blinded by their hate or faith or whatever the case may be. Overall, this is a story about humanity and the need that we all have to be loved. Human nature doesn’t change, as you can see here in the 1960’s it feels very much relevant to today.
I give A Single Man 5 “pastel colored, lady cigarettes” out of 5
by Angela Davis