Tom Ford’s A Single Man

A Single Man lacks the raw edge and quiet meditativeness that enables predecessors like L'Avventura and Before Sunrise to undercut their arty pretension.

I usually love this kind of movie. I love Antonioni, I love Before Sunset, I love pensive, free-form “day in the life” movies that capture existential angst. I love them because they manage to hit the “big questions” (“what’s the point of life?”) while manipulating the medium to evoke the very magic we’re all chasing: what can feel more soulful than Antonioni’s meditative camera, which creates so much room for naturalistic performances, subtle body dialogue between actors, long stretches of meaningful silence and raw moments of spontaneous aliveness? With A Single Man, however, Tom Ford leaves absolutely no room for this kind of organic life. Every shot is dressed up within an inch of its life. It’s a clusterfuck of expressionistic lighting, changing film stocks, slow motion, and premeditated action. There is no spontaneity, there is no rawness, there is no quirkiness to undercut its arty pretension. The closest it gets is the centerpiece scene between Colin Firth and Julianne Moore – and, more specifically, their dancing – but that is the merest flash of magic in a movie that doesn’t seem to trust itself, its actors or us to pick up on any kind of unspoken, intuitive meaning. But my main issue is Tom Ford’s unwillingness to dig deep into his premise for something real. Even Before Sunset, which is a much clumsier grandchild to Antonioni, manages to create actual dramatic conflict from its philosophical underpinnings: we understand the price Ethan Hawke would have to pay to take a chance on love again, we understand the heartache Julie Delpy would have to feel to do the same, and in that conflict, Linklater captures the tragic sense of what it is to realize your life has passed you by and why it’s such a huge leap of faith to reach out for that last surviving glimmer of romantic hope and possibility. By contrast, A Single Man does not give me any true sense of what it means to “live in the moment”: What are the risks? What would I have to be willing to feel? What emotional safety would I have to be willing to forego? There is a lot of dialogue (a lot of dialogue) about letting go of the past but the movie ultimately lacks that pull toward a real climax that truly embodies Colin’s dilemma: he dies just as haphazardly as he discovers life. The lack of specificity about what’s truly at stake for Colin in these final moments – and, by extension, what’s at stake for all of us at every moment – voids A Single Man of the kind of universality necessary to get away with its heavy gravity.

This entry was posted in A Single Man, Before Sunset, L'aventura, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Movie Review, Richard Linlkater, Tom Ford. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Tom Ford’s A Single Man

  1. Rita says:

    I experienced the highly stylized world of the film differently
    — I read it as the heightened reality, the POV of a man who thinks he is seeing life for the last time. And since Tom Ford very clearly depicts his hero from the very beginning as a man who savors the aesthetic details (see: his modern house, meticulously laid out outfits) it follows that his final moments on earth would be… Perfectly designed. I read the heightened beauty — for instance, the scene outside the liquor store with the gorgeous hustler-type as the sun sets in exaggerated reds (projected maybe?) behind them– as a sort of aching elegy to life from a man who’s reluctant to die. And that really moved me.

  2. Jamie Stein says:

    But do you feel like this part of our hero – his love of aesthetic detail – ever informs the drama? Is it ever resolved? Or dramatized? Or is it just incidental to what’s going on? And do you feel the movie addresses the question of how exactly this man is able to finally “live in the moment” by the end when he could apparently never do it before (even when he was in love with his beloved boyfriend)? In other words, what was it specifically about this day’s journey that freed something in him that had never been freed before?

  3. daigoumee says:

    this post is very usefull thx!

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