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“A Single Man" - {Blu-ray}
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Sony
Release Date:
Special Features:

(See Below)


George Falconer (Colin Firth), a British literature professor living in Los Angeles in 1962, is struggling to find meaning in his life. That's an awfully generic way to start a movie review, and I agree that many movies are about the struggle for meaning in life. But in the case of "A Single Man," an adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's novel, the idea seems neither hackneyed nor overused; we follow George over the course of one day and actually see and respond to his struggle to find meaning. Ever since a car accident took the life of Jim, his lover of sixteen years (Matthew Goode), George has been on a desperate search for some degree of contentment, some sign that he can love again and will be loved in return. He hasn't found it yet. He may never again find it. So why not make use of the gun in the desk drawer?***

This film marks the directorial debut of Tom Ford, the fashion designer and former creative director of the Gucci house. It would be brilliant even if it had been his twentieth film. It's a story of astonishing observation and poignancy, where beauty is found not only in the form of a face or the arc of an eyebrow, but also in the cold bleakness of a winter road, where pain and death give way to encounters of surprising tenderness. It's a masterpiece of character development and performance; every one of George's onscreen appearances, for example, is an opportunity for Ford to reveal him to us, which is to say we never see him in an empty or extraneous moment. The dialogue is a perfect blend of insight, contemplation, and wit - one of those rare instances where every word is carefully placed yet strung together as naturally as regular conversation.***

George is far from an uptight, prissy cliché, although he does give the appearance of being neat and orderly; always nicely dressed, always articulate, always able to keep his things in their proper place. But within, he's an absolute mess, tormented by grief, loss, regret, and above all, fear - the fear of isolation, of growing old alone and forgotten. He finds some solace with his best friend and former lover, Charlotte, a.k.a. Charley (Julianne Moore), an aging, hard-drinking British beauty who seems determined to wallow in her failures as a wife and mother. She states at one point that, as wonderful as what George and Jim had was, it was probably just a substitute for something real. George asserts, with understandable frustration, that what he and Jim had was very much real and not a substitute for anything.***

As the film progresses, a relationship develops between George and one of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who appears, at first glance, to be nothing more than an infatuated youth. But this would be a tedious movie indeed if their interactions were entirely motivated by sex; there's a definite physical attraction, no question, but ultimately, what they share boils down to the innate desire for meaningful human interaction, which works on a frequency separate from sexual orientation. Kenny, though young, is remarkably insightful and may in fact be the key to George's emotional salvation.***

While symbolism is hardly new in the movies, specific images in "A Single Man" so thoroughly represent the main character's emotional turmoil that they cannot be dismissed as manipulative visual aids. Consider the use of clocks and watches, many ticking in unison with the sound of a beating heart; they tell time, something we're all caught up in and will eventually fall victim to. The second hand continuously moves in jerky motions, as if to reinforce the idea that George's life has been reduced to a countdown.***

Also consider the use of color. George's memories of Jim - which pop up randomly, as they tend to do in real life - are vibrant and lush, warm and inviting, evocative of a committed, loving relationship. Compare that to the world George now sees: Faded and gray, cold and lifeless, dull and dreary. There are select moments, however, when the colors visibly amplify, as when he has a conversation with his neighbor's pleasant young daughter while waiting at the bank. As is the case with Kenny, this little girl gives George a much needed dose of social interaction.***

Special Features:

Commentary with Writer/Director Tom Ford /Making of "A Single Man" Featurette /movie IQ */ BD-Live

Final Words:

In spite of George's orientation, "A Single Man" is not, as some would call it, a "gay" movie. Its focus is on humanity, not sexuality, and that makes it accessible, I believe, to all audiences; it reaffirms that within all of us is the need to make contact with other people, sometimes for love, sometimes for a shoulder to cry on, sometimes for nothing more than simple conversation. Of all the films I've seen this year, few have been this relatable, this touching, and even in the absence of big-budget visual effects, this visually creative. Its greatest achievement, perhaps, was the casting of Colin Firth, undeniably convincing as a broken man maintaining a façade of serenity and togetherness. This is one of the year's best films.


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