The Herald: June 2010
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A Single Man
Directed by Tom Ford
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mathew Goode, Gennifer Goodwin, Nicholas Hoult
George Falconer wakes up from a dream where he kisses his dead lover amidst flurries of Detroit snow. His pen has leaked black ink onto the bed-sheets. He raises a hand, touches his lip and leaves an inky reminder of that ghostly kiss. These are the opening moments of Tom Ford’s ‘A Single Man’, based on the novel by the same name by Christopher Isherwood. As can be expected of a Tom Ford venture, the film is meticulous, beautiful, a series of advertisement-worthy images. George (Colin Firth) is mourning the loss of his partner of sixteen years, Jim (Mathew Goode), who has died in a car crash on a snowy road, with their two dogs. George receives a late-night, clandestine phone-call from Jim’s cousin, informing him of the death – he is refused permission to attend the funeral.
Eight months later, stricken with grief, George decides to end his life and plans his last day – He lays out the clothes he is to be buried in, insurance papers, farewell letters, cash, keys and instructions (such as his desire to be buried in a tie with a Windsor knot). Everything is precise, planned and perfect – there will be no unexpected endings as long as he can control the situation. The film follows Falconer on his last day, as he cleans out his office at the local school, gives a lecture on Aldous Huxley and the culture of fear in America (apt, as the film is set at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis) to a room full of bored teenagers and visits his friend Charley (Julianne Moore). Ultimately, it is the unexplored possibilities that arise during his day – an unlikely friendship with a student (Nicholas Hoult), a drunken tryst with Charley or a conversation with charming hustler from Madrid – that inject hope and humor into his otherwise-isolated existence. ‘A few times in my life,’ says Falconer, ‘I’ve had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds…the world seems so fresh as though it had all just come into existence…I’ve lived my life on these moments.’ It is Ford’s breath-taking exploration of these moments that lend ‘A Single Man’ beauty and poignancy.
Ford curates each scene as though it is a fashion-shoot from the era, enabled greatly by the production design team from Mad Men. Blonde Brigette Bardot-look –alikes smoke cigarettes with insouciance during Falconer’s classes, Charley smokes pink Sobranie cigarettes and does the twist to Booker T and the MGs. Ford uses a changeable, mercurial color palette to illustrate shifts in George’s mood – color flushes the screen’s images when George is happy, every image is brought into sharp relief and George is visibly relaxed. A lush soundtrack by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski accompanies this visual trickery, with stand-out pieces by Shigeru Umebayashi (a frequent contributor to Wong Kar-Wai’s films).
‘A Single Man’ is a far cry from the provocative images we have come to expect from Tom Ford, who has been at the helm of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. Firth is the perfect narrator for Ford’s meditation on loss, grief and love – when George learns of Jim’s death, Ford’s camera is unflinchingly, uncomfortably close to Firth, minutely detailing his breakdown and breathless sobs. The film is intercut with remembrances of Jim and George’s sixteen-year relationship, from their initial meeting to their life of domestic bliss – Ford’s representation of the couple is unexpectedly chaste and gentle. The film also comments on the perception of homosexuality in America during the 1960s – during a time of social and political upheaval, Falconer’s neighbors disdainfully think of him as a man who is “light in his loafers”.
With ‘A Single Man’, Ford confidently tackles Isherwood’s seminal text – the result is a successful foray into filmic territory otherwise explored by Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-Wai.