Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.” — Maureen Dowd
Elements of Style, Served Whole
A Single Man is a truly wonderful, heart-rending story and a beautifully constructed film. I had some questions about how this movie would work out, as it was directed and written for the screen by Tom Ford, who built a decade of fashion and design credibility at the house of Gucci. I have respect for what Ford has done in that field, but that was no guarantee of a cross over talent to writing and directing. Zippee. I was on board for Colin Firth (George).
This story portrays a deep and unyielding grief at the loss of a long-term partner and love. It also is incredibly stylish down to every detail, and one can really see the hand of haute couture creative direction in each element. Costumes, accessories, hair styles, make-up, decorated rooms, offices, drawers, cars, bars…….everything has a refined finish that speaks of a world that rests on a foundation of commitment to design and beauty.
What most impressed me about Ford’s directing and screenwriting was his ability to avoid letting the elements of style mask the agony of the characters’ struggles. In fact, he is masterful at using style as a vehicle for a theme of what happens when wholeness is severed. The pretty things remain, but they are shadows and copies of what was once a complete life.
Some characters cling desperately to the shadows, trying to leverage some kind of unity through lavender cigarettes and Tanqueray gin. There is only one character unaffected by a splintered life; not coincidentally, it is George’s lost love, Jim. Jim appears in flashback only, as when the story opens he is already dead. He appears only in George’s memory, a memory steeped in devotion as well as the happiness and fulfullment that Jim brought into his life.
Ford is excellent at showing George’s attention to details like a beautiful smile, well coiffed hair, or a Windsor knot as what they are — the last grasps at pieces of beauty in the face of having lost what was truly beautiful and irreplaceable. Never contemptuous but consistently honest, Ford manages to show even his own biographical engagement with style as walking a fine line between holding on to what is beautiful in appearance and being willing to embrace “the awful” — in this case the truth of homosexuality in the 1960s, grief, and growing old — as “having its own kind of beauty.”
I highly recommend watching this film with someone with whom you are completely, unrepentantly, and wholly in love.