A Single Man

February 15, 2010

in Movies

Written and Directed by Tom Ford
Starring: Colin Firth
Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA

A Single Man

Colin Firth’s performance in this study of homosexuality and loss set in the early 1960s is compelling and wonderful. I had not seen this range in his acting before and it is an eye-opener to get a sense of his capacities. (The last film I saw him in was Mamma Mia, in which his efforts did not fare quite as well as Meryl Streep’s against the kitsch tide of the film – but Streep is truly a alchemical sorceress and seems to be able to turn any kind of dramatic dross into gold.)

A Single Man is based on a Christopher Isherwood story and, like Cabaret, also based on Isherwood’s stories, compellingly conveys the difficulties and challenges of being gay six or seven decades ago. Though times have changed, the portrait of tragedy, so vivid still to many who lived through those eras, is compelling. The narrative is interesting and generally well conceived, though the ending need not have gone the way it did. It might have made for a better film without it.

As well, the film is impressionistic overall, and there are lots of visual effects and thought provoking music to give the subjective sense of a tormented, isolated and grieving soul. However, there is, I think, something more to be added to an Isherwood tale than this – Firth’s protagonist is a Britisher who is an English professor in the US, and we get some brief sense of his academic involvements, but really nothing at all profound. What does this character think, other than that he suffers? How does his sensitivity to literature contribute to his capacities to feel and to ride the existential waves of life? We don’t get much of that in this film and it left me wanting more of it. Isherwood – among other things, a translator of the Bhagavad Gita – was a man of interesting intellectual dimensions – and it would be appealing, in an artistic study of this sort – to better grasp how that sense, especially in an academic, leads to a seasoned reflection on the tragedy of loss and social isolation, not merely a pained undergoing of it.

– BADMan

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