“Shiny, happy plastic people in tragic circumstances.”
Tom Ford’s A Single Man isn’t a horror or fantasy film, but it might as well be, as far as depicting relationships between humans goes. George (Peter Firth) is a British expatriate, teaching at a college in California. His world is seemingly perfect till the death of his lover, Jim (Matthew Goode) in an auto accident changes everything.
For a movie about a man who’s love is torn from him so suddenly, this is a remarkably chaste movie, which is important to note because there’s barely anything even remotely passionate about their relationship, which is a problem when that’s what underlies everything that happens in the movie.
I can understand why two actors might not want to give a more nuanced portrayal of two people in love, but British films (such as the far superior Weekend, also on Netflix) typically aren’t afraid to depict people being intimate–and I don’t necessarily mean in a sexual context. George and Jim may occupy the same space at any given time, but they never feel as if they’re together.
It’s like you have two people who are close friends–’close’ in the sense that they always seem to be in proximity to each other–and that’s pretty much it. It lacks the fire, the passion, that would drive one partner to contemplate suicide upon the death of the other.
That is, till I gave it a bit of thought. A Single Man, despite how it appears on the surface, isn’t a gay film more so than it’s a film about comfort; about being set in your ways and unable to grow.
That it revolves around two gay men is irrelevant, because as depicted here you could just as easily replace them with any two individuals you choose (in fact, if instead of George and Jim, you had Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Krugman)) it might be a classic.
And here’s another theory: A Single Man is less about a couple torn apart by circumstances than it is about racism. Now keep in mind, I haven’t read the Christopher Isherwood book that the movie is based on, but what’s particularly noticeable about the movie is the lack of color, people-wise.
And sure, George’s maid–who’s barely seen–in a beige-skinned Latina, and that’s it.
George is contemplating death not because of the loss of his lover, but because the world is changing in ways that his upper-crust British worldview won’t allow him to encompass. It’s worth mentioning that everytime the movie flashes back to his life with Jim, it’s typically idealized, picture-postcard perfect and very white.
Which is for a reason. They’re less the world of reality than the world as George wishes it were, and Jim’s death forces him to accept that there’s a messy, multi-racial reality just beyond the walls of his immaculate–speaking of Felix Unger!–California home.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Julianne Moore, who vanishes into her character to such a degree that she’s almost unrecognizable–in a good way–as ‘Charley’ and Nicholas Hoult (Kenny), who would have been justified in attempting to kill Costume Designer Arianne Phillips for dressing him in some pretty atrocious, foppish sweaters.
A Single Man is currently hanging around on Netflix.