Posted: 03/24/2010

 

A Single Man

(2009)

by Carolyn Oakes



A Dark Story Packs A Powerful Punch


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George Falconer has reached the end. Blank letterhead, with his name in calligraphy spelled across the top, sits perfectly still atop his desk, held down by a paperweight in the form of a handgun. The memo is blank and so is Mr. Falconer’s future. His future has been pinned down, also, by the weight of the same handgun. All has been lost, and today, George will make certain that the pain he has endured in the eight months since his life partner was killed in an automobile accident, will finally come to an end. But first, he must get through the day. A Single Man, directed by Tom Ford (yes, of Gucci) is George’s story of weathering life while struggling with the disparity between clarity and obscurity.

Obscurity is defined as darkness, or indistinctiveness. George Falconer (Oscar-nominated Colin Firth) has learned that a life without love is simply dim, relentless, unimaginable, and even futile (an irony for an English teacher who makes a living quoting many a writer who would beg to differ). Glimpses of flashbacks of moments he had with his partner of 16 years (Matthew Goode) help to illustrate the power that love can have over an otherwise ordinary life, and the buoyancy love often gives us to push forward through the everyday trifles that life will too often bear. “Love, love, love, all you need is love,” says one of millions of love songs we have heard and will hear over time. What if what you need, all you need, has been robbed from you, in such a tragic and abrupt capacity that life simply can not be endured?

Set in 1962 Los Angeles, George’s last day (or is it?) is filled with chance encounters with students, old friends (particularly a hilarious turn by Julianne Moore), daily routines, and the haunting memories that remain too close for comfort, swirling around in George’s mind in an endless mirage.

“A few times in my life I’ve had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.” George’s words remain the evidence of his good fortune to have at least felt the depth of clarity and contentment in years past, though now stripped from him along with the love he has lost.

A Single Man excels as poetry in the form of a visual masterpiece, pleasing to the eye with every scene, and with each use of color, down to its specific tone. It is clear Ford’s resume in fashion has served him well in understanding how to attract and hold the attraction of the viewer, even before the diligent and effective screenplay (also courtesy of Tom Ford, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel) unfolds to create a partnership of candy for the senses. With such a grave story unfolding before us, the surprise lies in the way that comedy has been spliced ever so delicately throughout the film, both with subtlety and effectiveness.

Performances of this caliber are simply not given very often, and all the main actors do their best work in this moving and exceptional piece. We are left only to remember that life is about both clarity and obscurity and to feel either one, you must also feel the other. Such is life…and thank goodness for that.

Carolyn Oakes Carolyn Oakes is a writer based on Long Island.



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