In Search of Color
Fashion designer Tom Ford's feature directorial debut, A Single Man, is a bold first step, both visually ambitious and unapologetic about its point-of-view. It's the story of one day in the life of George Falconer (Colin Firth), a British college professor in 1962 Los Angeles. George is a cautious gay man who's having serious trouble getting over the death of his partner Jim (Matthew Goode) less than a year ago.
The movie is striking in two ways, first through its very conscientious visual scheme, which composes every shot as if it were going to be part of a magazine photo shoot. It looks beautiful, and there's a lot of slo-mo, but it goes further, changing its level of color saturation to reflect the mood and energy of its protagonist. Stricken with grief, the quiet George actually spends the day contemplating ending his own life, and most of the time the world he sees is drained of color; but when someone unexpected engages his interest (usually someone who reveals himself to be a fellow homosexual), the screen's colors bleed into fullness.
Secondly, the film's approach to examining the condition of being a gay man in the '60s appears quite matter-of-fact. A Single Man is mainly about an experience of someone who faced strong and often silent prejudice, and found difficulty simply in achieving some of the most simple of life's privileges -- just meeting a potential lover was a feeling-out process wrought with careful insinuations and suggestions, and one heartbreaking flashback sees George receiving word about Jim's death and receiving the explicit directive that he won't be welcome at the funeral.
The rules of George's life seem so wrong, but the movie does a good job showing how "normal" that environment was, and how much of it George had reluctantly accepted until, perhaps, this one particularly downtrodden day. But A Single Man doesn't feel like a loud statement against prejudices past and present; it stands first and foremost as the sad story of one man who cannot get over his life's most significant tragedy. As he goes about his day, we see all these unique circumstances that have governed his life. His is a world of dead ends, impending doom, and fleeting hopes. A Single Man ends up being as much a portrait of the mundane cycle of life as it is of homosexual inhibition.
(Released by The Weinstein Company and rated "R" for disturbing images and nudity/sexual content.)
(Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.