I'm a liberal. I like Barack Obama. I disliked George W. Bush. I'm against the war. And I'm an advocate for gay marriage. Why do I feel the need to point all this out so matter-of-factly? Well, as you can tell by now, I'm a film lover and Hollywood tends to be liberal and I've seen many films about homosexuals that I absolutely love. I think discrimination against them is one of the biggest travesties of our nation because it shows how immature and selfish we are when it comes to people unlike ourselves. When a movie comes along about a gay person facing these problems, I feel touched and embrace it with love. However, the new gay-centric film, A Single Man, doesn't make me feel this way. Though it is an aesthetically sound film and features good performances, certain aspects don't hold up to scrutiny.
The film is set in the wake of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and centers around college professor George (Colin Firth), a grieving man who lost his lover, Jim (Matthew Goode), in a devastating car accident eight months prior. Now he is sad and alone, wandering through life in a constant state of depression. He wakes up every morning out of breath from the nightmares haunting his dreams, his heart literally aches from his sadness and he finds it increasingly difficult to get through each day. He is contemplating suicide and the movie follows him through one day of his life where he hits highs and lows and in the end must make a decision to live or die.
A Single Man is directed by newcomer Tom Ford, a gay man himself and a fashion expert. Being knowledgeable in fashion has allowed him to create a distinctive look to the film that is all his own. He has an eye for the colorful and bright as well as the dark and plain and he uses this talent to the fullest, wonderfully transitioning it to the big screen. Throughout the film, he changes the color palette to reflect on George's mood. Most of the time, George is down and Ford utilizes a grey-ish tint to symbolize the depression he is facing. However, when his outlook on life changes and he begins to see the joys that can still come, like when he makes a romantic connection with a new, young man, everything brightens up to reflect that. It's a beautiful and meaningful aesthetic that never keeps you in the dark on George's feelings, but rather puts you in his shoes and allows you to see the world as he sees it, bright when happy and stripped of color when sad.
To accompany that, the editing creates a similar correlation. The way it is put together—slow motion, absence of sound, jump cuts, etc.—feels almost surreal, which is appropriate considering some of these scenes are dreams. Some scenes feel incomplete without sound and with jump cuts, but it perfectly complements George's life because he feels incomplete without Jim.
All of this is fine. In fact, it's the main reason to see this movie. It's look and feel are spectacular and kept me staring at the screen in awe. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie isn't nearly as impressive. Though vastly different movies, I never felt the connection between Jim and George that I did with Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain or Sean Penn and James Franco in Milk. I acknowledge that, due to the structure of the story, Jim and George don't share much screen time, but without an authentic chemistry, I found it hard to care about George and the pain he was feeling.
Nevertheless, I did find A Single Man to be a timely picture, despite the 60's setting. One early scene where George finds out Jim is dead echoes present situations. He makes a remark about how he should get ready for the funeral, but is told that the funeral is "for family only." Jim and George had been together for 16 years and if that isn't family, I don't know what is, but he is still not allowed to attend. This is similar to the ongoing debate over what constitutes a "family" and whether or not homosexuals are allowed visitation rights when their lover is sick in the hospital.
In another scene, George explains to his class that minorities are everywhere, but aren't classified as such until they pose a threat, which is usually imaginary. Look at redheads for instance, or people with freckles. They are minorities, but we don't consider them in a class of their own, but we take homosexuals and Middle Easterners and African Americans and lump them into their own little group. Why? As George says, it is because we are afraid. Fear motivates us to not only acknowledge, but create minorities in the hope of keeping them subdued.
All of this is incredibly smart. Being set during the Cuban missile crisis also brings up talks of a nuclear war, another threat we are facing today. But these ideologies are merely sidenotes on the path to the fim's conclusion. They are brought up and they are presented with the obvious desire to spark discussion, but are dropped just as quickly and never achieve their desired purposes.
The problem with analyzing A Single Man is this. If you are a film lover like me and can appreciate the indelible look of the picture, it's worth seeing, but are casual movie-goers going to enjoy it? I don't think so. The story is lacking, the chemistry is almost non-existent and most will find it hard to care about what is going on in George's life. Still, I have to go with my gut reaction and although I'm torn on most accounts, I do feel like this is a good enough movie for people to check out, but it wouldn't be a crime to wait for the DVD.
A Single Man receives 3/5