Pride Month: A Single Man (2009)
"Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty."
The loss of a soulmate, a concept that is often looked at by cinema from a heterosexual viewpoint, is rarely seen from the other side, from the "invisible minority." Only in recent history has this been seen in the mainstream from an LGBTQ perspective, a viewpoint that can be at once empowering and devastating for members of the community in its result. Tom Ford’s 2009 directorial debut A Single Man, achieves that balance without being off-putting or preachy, but instead by just showcasing a few days in the life of a man lost to depression, trying to claw his way out. It's a masterful, life-changing picture of immense scope, even if it doesn't seem so on the surface.
For years, Tom Ford made his name in the world of fashion, being the chief creative force behind Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, pouring his entire life into both lifestyle and advertising campaigns. Responsible for some of the most brash and divisive moves for either company, he received equal amounts of acclaim and criticism for his choices. Never afraid to show the human body in a raw form, his eye for beauty was unmatched in the industry. It wouldn't be until 2006 when he launched his own ‘Tom Ford’ fashion label, striking out on his own. Around the same time he launched his film production company ‘Fade to Black’ in order to further exercise his creative muscles, this time in the world of cinema. Industry experts at the time found this to be a laughable endeavor, “What could this man who designs expensive suits really have to say about the human condition?” they mused. Turns out, he had quite a lot.
A Single Man is still one of the finest directorial debuts by a filmmaker in my memory, filled with visual flourishes and pitch perfect performances that really enhance the story on display. Adapted from a novel by Christopher Isherwood, author of The Berlin Stories from which Bob Fosse’s Cabaret would be adapted from, A Single Man was one of the most important novels in the gay movement in modern literature. It makes perfect sense that Ford would choose Isherwood’s novel. It's essential reading and an important gateway to really understanding that love can exist in all forms, even when it can't be seen in plain sight. Written at a time when most gay men hid in plain sight, perpetually in the closet, being a part of that "invisible minority" can be devastating to person's psyche. The need to hide and the fear of being yourself can damage you in ways that aren't easy to describe. With some determination and cause, however, being yourself isn't out of reach and it's films like A Single Man that can shine a light on that, and perhaps help.
Colin Firth gives his best performance to date as George Falconer, a college professor who until recently had been living with his young partner Jim, played by Matthew Goode (Watchmen, Stoker), and seen in flashback. After a terrible car accident, George is left with nothing but a cold, lonely reality and we follow him through his final 24 hours. This is accentuated by how Ford films the proceedings, using various filters and a muted color palette whenever Firth is on screen. Everything is dull and drab as George goes about his daily routine, with full color bursting through only during those few fleeting moments of happiness. These moments are truly fleeting as he's decided to commit suicide, and very little will be able to change his mind. He simply cannot go on. Jim was his life, and we see that through the abundant happiness seen in the flashbacks. Bickering like an old married couple about music and novels, there's a joy underneath that's easily recognizable by any viewer that's in a long term relationship. Beneath the petty arguments there's love, a feeling of being complete. With Jim gone, what purpose does George really have anymore? It's this aspect that grasps the viewer and keeps them on this journey.
Meeting a handsome young man outside a liquor store, George says he's trying to get over an old love. The man replies with “my mother says lovers are like buses, wait a bit and another is bound to come along.” The clues to George's worth are hinted at throughout. His longtime friend and neighbor Charley, a drunken party girl played by Julianne Moore, even after all these years, still believes that George's sexuality is something to be toyed with, a part that can be fixed. Although they had slept together in their younger years, George eventually found himself and though still close, that part of their lives is over. Charley still yearns for him however, jealous of his relationship with Jim, a fact that both hurts and strengthens George's reserve. He knows in the end she's all in good fun but he needs to do what he feels is right. Another bright light, though unforeseen by George is a young student of his by the name of Kenny, played with charm and warmth by Nicholas Hoult (Mad Max: Fury Road), that gives George true pause. A real connection is made here. One that causes him to give up his self-made suicide pact and at least try to find a new love, whether it be Kenny or someone else. That's the key. No matter how dark things get, there'll always be a light, always something to keep you going, keep you waking up every morning.
With his first picture, Tom Ford silenced his critics and A Single Man was rightly hailed as a modern classic. It can be a hard watch given the subject matter but it's certainly worth checking out. Important without being preachy, it shines a light on what makes us tick and shows that gay relationships are just as valid as straight ones, no matter what the bigoted among us might say. Ford created something truly special here, a picture that is one for the ages and one of the best examinations of love lost in the history of cinema.