When a person approaches film narrative from a stream of conscious ideology, I often get concerned as delivering a coherent narrative is often difficult. Of course there are exceptions to this concern, such as Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Lynch's Lost Highway. However, it is rare for a movie to deliver stream of conscious narrative in a manner that is both accessible and perfectly poetic. A Single Man, the debut film for Gucci designer Tom Ford, is a case where poetics and approachability combine magically and in what could prove to be one of the most overlooked masterpieces of the past decade. Obviously inspired by the successes of Mad Men, A Single Man focuses on the life of a professor in 1960's America at the height of Cold War fears. Furthermore, it uses a set of respected actors who neither possess superstar images nor overact for the sake of assumed Oscar nominations. Tom Ford's period pieces is all about subtlety and this helps the surreal nature of the film exponentially. To add to my already exuding adoration for this film, I will state that it is precisely how a film should perform character study, by focusing on the character in a very singular and internal sense.
A Simple Man follows the course of events over a single day for the aging British professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) who is reeling from the recent loss of his partner Jim (Matthew Goode). His loss is quite internal given the staunch conservatism which exists, even in the relatively liberal Los Angeles college community of which George teaches. Given his depression, which has resulted from inner turmoil, George has vowed to commit suicide at the end of November 30th. He plans to simply make it through the day and off himself with a gun, leaving everything that represented his life sitting out in his kitchen. George begins to deal with his plan rather stoically until the world around him begins to interfere. This begins with the inquiries of a young Jewish student about anti-semitism that leads George on a brilliant diatribe about the illogical nature of fear. After the deeply philosophical speech, George heads to his office to clean out his desk and down a fifth of whiskey. This speech inspires a young student named Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) to approach George after class and discuss his own beliefs, as well as his past drug use. Before parting Kenny purchases George a yellow pencil sharper as a gift for escorting him across the campus, it is quite apparent at this point that George desires Kenny. However, realizing his purpose George leaves and stops by a liquor store to purchase gin for his former lover Charlie (Julianne Moore) of whom he was intimate with, prior to his coming out. Upon leaving the liquor store George bumps into a young Spanish man dropping the bottle of gin and breaking it. This accident leads to a discussion with the man named Carlos (Jon Kortajanera) who states that George is in dire need for someone to like him. Shrugging this off indifferently, George heads home in an attempt to kill himself. However, he finds himself unsuccessful at shooting himself and after receiving a call from Charlie decides to head to her house for a few drinks. After dinner and a pass on the part of Charlie for sex, George leaves and heads to a bar, which him and Jim frequented. There, by chance, he meets Kenny again and after a drink they decide to go swimming. During their swim at the beach George is knocked unconscious, at which point the two decide to return to George's house. While finding a bandaid, for George,, Kenny discovers a naked picture of Jim and proceeds to distance himself from George for the remainder of the night. When George awakes a few hours later, he discovers Kenny lying on his sofa holding George's gun as a form of defense against his advances. Realizing that Kenny had no desire for him, George enters his room with a new level of serenity, unfortunately, his decision to be happy is quickly followed by deathly heart attack that leaves George on the floor, which fulfilled his original plan for the day.
The film is quite impressive for its approach to a quite overlooked narrative in America prior to the 1970's, this of course being the experiences of homosexuals in the United States. While Mad Men has dealt with this to some extent, they have never made it a matter to focus heavily on the alternative world of gay underground, let alone as a sole narrative. Prior to a film like this, the commentary of gay life prior to Stonewall reserved for documentary filmmaking and narrative distanced from film. I would imagine one of the biggest factors in changing this in cinema was the critical acclaim received by Brokeback Mountain. IT is great to see a gay narrative emerge in film and even more so that it was provided with a respectable budget. In years prior gay filmmaking was reserved to the avant-garde and experimental realms with filmmakers like Kenneth Anger and Su Friedrich leading the way. A Single Man represents a complete change to voices about the past, as well as voices present in contemporary filmmaking. I am glad to see films like this being made for a variety of reasons and hope the change continues, but if films like Beginners have anything to do with it, the trend is only beginning. Sorry the criticism is not heavy in theory, but this is such an experiential film that explanation is somewhat arbitrary.
Watch this movie immediately, somehow it fell under my radar in 2009 and for that, I feel terrible. Make sure you get a copy and share it with your friends; it is truly a visual manifesto.