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Interesting yet, ultimately, doesn't really go anywhere.
A Single Man (DVD)
Member Name: novelfootsteps
A Single Man (DVD)
Advantages: A visually compelling and thoughtful portrait of ennui and loneliness
Disadvantages: The plot doesn't really do much or offer many insights
There are times that I watch a film and find, by the end, that I have nothing to say and very little to think. I had this feeling on finishing A Single Man. It's not that I am apathetic or unappreciative. In fact, when a film disappoints, it doesn't take me a lot of effort to spit feathered words of derision. But when a film is decent but unremarkable, it is very hard to know what to do about it.
What makes A Single Man good? It is directed by a fashion designer turned director and the fascination with aesthetics is there for all to see. Many reviewers have complained about the pretensions of the film. Certainly, it struck my mind that a man so depressed with existence that he is hoping to end it all should be so concerned about dressing nattily and polishing his gleaming shoes. It seems as if the director's predilection for fine fashion and aesthetic perfection are force fed into this tale.
Yet, the story and Colin Firth's acting as the depressed single man transcends the obvious materialist pretensions of the director. In fact, the hyper-aesthetic mien of the film gives it an otherworldly atmosphere. There is something about the luxury brands on show, the neatly folded piles of white towels and so on which emphasises Firth's character's loneliness. Everything is so ordered and perfect, even Firth himself, it as if the world of luxury brand adverts have trapped human inhabitants. The captives have no choice but to go along with the vanity of it all but within their perfect suits, they are wasting away.
I don't know if the director intended it, but the film undermines the splendour of its aesthetics. The flashbacks of Firth's lost relationship (heightened in colour) with Matthew Goode's character pales the symmetry of the present. The audience is left believing in love over material mastery. The film is far from a glorified advert, though visually that is what is presented.
Yet, for all this subversive quality, the film doesn't go that far. Firth is highly plausible as a repressed man. But, I didn't believe that he was suicidal. In an attempt to bring light on the affair, Firth is made to approach the actual method of suicide quite playfully - even, funnily. Yet, this only detracts further from the realism of the piece. Yes, Firth is repressed, depressed, nihilistic but that terrible impulse that would put him over the edge - it just was not evident.
The final section of the film concerns Firth's budding and equivocal friendship with a young student. The equivocality of their relationship (platonic or not?) is done well but, it is only suspense. Suspense and intrigue are all well and good but Firth is meant to be a man facing existential self-obliteration and the film needed to recognise and resolve this. Instead, it becomes suggestive and vague. Firth's U-turn barely ripples his facial skin and the audience is left none the wiser as to the true depths of suffering of a single man.
Summary: A film that has earned many plaudits but which tends to disappoint