A Single Man (2009) (R)

"A Single Man" is the kind of movie that proves the power of drama. For many it may be a work so pretentious that it is impossible to connect with—there are many scenes with feel cut together with little care—but for those who stick it out, you may find something so beautiful and so relevant that it takes your breath away.
Based on the Christopher Isherwood novel, "A Single Man" is a stunning directorial debut from Tom Ford, who hasn't directed since. It's a work that is entirely devoted to its lead character, George (Colin Firth); but above its performances and its characters, the film is about emotions and colors. It's about the moment when you have reached the end of your rope and it's about life...that silly and vexing thing it is.
George is reeling from a loss. His love of sixteen years, Jim (Matthew Goode) has died and left George alone with no one. His next door neighbor and past lover Charley (Julianne Moore) is suffering from the same depression as George is, but she has an outlet. She spends her mornings, noons, and nights in a drunken stupor, thinking about moving back to London. George is not so privileged to have an addiction so he sits in silence and lets the emotions smother him completely.
Set in 1962, as the Cuban Missile Crisis is on everyone's mind, "A Single Man" reflects that personal tragedy of one overwhelming the mass hysteria of a nation. George's mind wanders as his colleagues talk about the end of the world. He is having his personal apocalypse that has manifested itself with the idea of suicide.
Before going out on his day, George mentally prepares for his death. He is getting his affairs in order so that his demise will be swift and painless.
At work, George is an English professor, though today he seems less out of it than he does normally. He is consumed by his own feelings and likens it to drowning, which is a visual metaphor that we return to many times. One of his students, Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) seems to have taken an interest in him and since this student is almost flawless to look at, George doesn't seem bothered by this. Kenny talks to George about fear, drugs, and colors...the result of the talk influences the rest of the movie.
"A Single Man" consists of us watching George, feeling for George, and trying to understand him more. This is a desperate man, a man who has sunk so low that he cannot get back up; but doesn't he have to?
Amidst the whirl of emotions and the dazzling visuals, "A Single Man" is making a commentary on life that stretches far beyond being gay in the 1960s, which ironically doesn't show up that much. There is much less time spent surrounding homosexuality and much more scenes involving longing for love. George makes the comment that the moments in his life that have been the sweetest were when he truly felt connected to another person.
Intimacy is what we crave for, at least after watching this movie. George's descent isn't in the modus operandi of Scorsese, but it's more muted and less showy. It is a performance of a lifetime for Colin Firth and would only be equalled a year later by himself again in "The King's Speech". He is so understated that it's almost impossible to gauge what he is thinking.
"A Single Man" pulls you in with its depressive moodiness. It washes over you with its changing colors and the way its emotions change. It resonated deep within me, like a song.
This is a movie that is easy to make fun of, but I can't imagine another movie as successful as this one with so minimal the cast, the script, and the sets.
It doesn't work because of Colin Firth, Firth excels because the movie is great.

Score: ★★★★

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