Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

16 December 2009

Single Men

I really loved Tom Ford's first movie A Single Man. I have heard people say that it is too ponderous, too slow, too pretty, and (even) too gay, but I don't buy any of those criticisms. I found it totally engrossing, erotic, and beautiful. I think it is going to be one of my favorite movies of the year, actually.

I think it is important that we remember, also, that this is Tom Ford's first film. He is not a filmmaker, or at least, hasn't been one for long.

A Single Man is about a day in the life of a gay man (Colin Firth) who has lost his longterm boyfriend (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. The film is about grief and loss, mostly, but also--and this is very important, A Single Man is about memory and the ways that memories surge up within the present, how the past is still alive as we interact in the present. We cannot escape memory, and absence, in this film, is as present as the moment in which the main character is currently living.

The film, then, spends a lot of time in memories, and in exploring specific perspectives--like staring at a woman's lips, or at a naked torso. Sometimes the character is simply overwhelmed with grief and the film attempts to capture only the sensation of drowning. It is a bold, fascinating experiment. And I loved it.

A Single Man is very gay. A part of its project is to explore the lack of validation our culture gives to longterm homosexual relationships. Much of the film is also about beauty and how beauty can give us a reason for living after we have suffered much grief. (So the film dwells on the blue of a child's dress for longer than we might think important, or slows down the exhalation of smoke from an attractive man's lips in order to explore the beauty of such an image and the power of that beauty as a reason for being.) This could, I suppose, be called a gay aesthetic--a Wildean aesthetic--but I did not find this a distraction from the movie. I thought, rather, that the film was about these moments in a very important way.

I want to also mention that the film contains two of the best performances of the year, by both Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Firth is just brilliant, and Moore gives a fierce, searing performance. She tears into her role and what she comes up with is really extraordinary. To go back to Firth for a moment, the film is with him for almost its entirety, and we get so much from him, understand so much about him, that even when he is silent and brooding and not telling us what he is thinking, we understand.

If you haven't seen the documentary Chris & Don: a Love Story about Christopher Isherwood (who wrote the novel A Single Man) and his lover Don Bachardy, the films go very well together, and Ford's film reflects Isherwood's philosophies beautifully.

At any rate, I loved this film, and plan repeat viewings. I won't see it again this month--too many movies to see!--but I will definitely be watching A Single Man again.

And I really hope Tom Ford makes another film or two. This one is superb. And it is one of the most visually striking, inventive, and consistent first films I have ever seen.