Gorgeous and complex
A Single Man is a superbly written story of loss, quiet grief, and the eventual reclamation of life. It stars Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, two of todays best, and some would say rather underappreciated, actors.
The plot is simple enough – we follow George Falconer (Colin) through one day in his life, 8 months after the accidental death of his partner Jim. We watch him navigate through the day, very organized and controlled. We watch as his life changes direction.
Colin Firth is perfect as George. He holds himself apart from his life, above it. He is an aesthete, an intellectual, and a sometimes romantic. He dresses impeccably. His house is impeccable. His life is impeccable. Julianne is his polar opposite, as Charley. She is over the top, from her hair to her makeup to her clothes and her house. She brings a manic quality to Charley, excellent in the delivery. And of course, she is gorgeous.
A third, silent actor in the film is George’s house. He lives in California in a modern house of wood and glass, set in a forested area. We see, through flashbacks, several interactions between George and Jim in this simpler yet more dangerous gay old time. The house both protects them from the world and exposes them to it as they move from the dark and shadowy depths into the vast glass walled rooms. To say that I covet this house is an understatement.
The way that director Tom Ford sways gently back and forth between George’s hidden internal drama and his very exposed wrenching emotion is expert. We watch George calmly getting ready for his day, his incredibly meticulous life soothing in its complexity as he goes to work, makes plans with his best friend Charley (Julianne) for dinner, stops by the liquor store, and also as he buys bullets for a gun and sets out all his affairs, in order to kill himself at the end of the day. The color is muted, the life he lives is drawn and pale. This is opposed to his flashback recollections of Jim, all in vibrant super saturated color, showing that Life, when enjoyed, is so, well, alive. The one section of black and white memories are based on a black and white photograph. As is true to life, memories duplicate their triggers.
The visuals are amazing. The sight of Jim’s body next to his dog’s on the side of the road in the snow is beautifully bleak. Yet he is quickly joined by the angel of death in the guise of George, who gently kisses him into death. Charley’s house is a riot of color, much like Charley herself. She is manic and lovable and only wanted George to love her as she loves him. She makes the fatal mistake of misjudging George’s love for Jim, demeaning it. We watch as the color drains from the screen, the scene becoming muted.
Every time that George starts to experience life again during the day the colors burst. And every time that he is reminded that he is alone, that he has lost his love, they fade away.
The music is stunning. Full of violins and harps, it soothes us into a revery of life. At times it provides a quiet background to the drama, at others it is almost a character on the screen. It will soon be joining my collection.
Finally, when all seems lost, George bumps into one of his college students and they share a drink. And a swim. The screen comes to life. Memories intrude onto the present, and color is abundant. George finds himself reaching for the promise of a new life, a new love. He finds that he can want joy again. He experiences hope for the first time in a long time. He starts to look forward to tomorrow. The technicolor life he had been missing is back. He locks away the gun.
And then when he succumbs to a fatal heart attack, it is almost… sweet. He has rediscovered the joy that just being alive can mean. The angel as Jim comes to him, to kiss him quietly and lovingly into death. A single man’s journey is at an end, and he is the better for it.
And so are we.