A Single Man

MOVIE RATING:  5 stars (A+)

(Updated September 29, 2011)

I’ve been procrastinating for 2 months on this blog…I didn’t want to “screw it up” by blogging about it too casually. This film has left an impression on my heart and in my mind so powerfully that it intimidates me to even write about it for fear of detracting from the greatness of the movie. I saw director Tom Ford’s debut masterpiece A Single Man (2009) for the first time the day it was released on DVD (July 6, 2010). I was anxiously awaiting it since I first heard about it last year and saw the trailer. I’m a huge admirer of Fashion Designer Tom Ford and when I heard he had made his first film as a director, I just knew I wanted to SEE his movie no matter what because I knew that a guy with that much style and slick image would have to create a visually stunning movie. And of course he did!

A Single Man was filmed poetically on an old Kodak film stock that Ford and Director of Photography Eduard Grau bought the final spools of wherever they could find them around the world. That passion and craft for making this film shows in every single grainy frame of the movie from when you press play until the final credit. I’m always blogging about how visually stunning many movies are…but this one truly represents how I personally see the world and its beauty…in somber and subtle poetic detail. I find beauty in the simple details like the character George does in this movie, played astonishingly by actor Colin Firth. This is one movie where all the still images I share still don’t do the film justice. You just have to see this film to revel in its incredible visual beauty. Ford’s use of heavy grain from the film stock works perfectly to help convey the old school 1962 time period in which this film takes place. I bought the bluray version of the movie and it’s one of those rare new movies where “high definition” doesn’t really improve the movie. This movie is all about what 35mm film is to cinema, like vinyl records are to music. The perfections and imperfections are what make it great.

If you’ve read anything about the story of this movie, then you know it’s a serious character-driven drama…my favorite kind of movie. This movie is for people who truly appreciate the power and ability of cinema to capture the human condition and its thoughts and emotions. It’s not a “feel good” movie, and yet it made me feel alive and good about film. This is a story about lost love. Colin Firth plays George, a gay English Professor in his late 40s or 50s, who loses the love of his life, Jim, played beautifully by Matthew Goode. The movie is a day in the life of George as he prepares to kill himself at the end of it. His heart is so broken that he’s lost hope and his drive to live. And yet on the final day of his life, he rediscovers a passion for living through the people he interacts with, like student Kenny (played by Nicholas Hoult) and best friend Charley (played stunningly by Julianne Moore). And he rediscovers the beauty and color in the details of his life and the world around him. I won’t give away the ending, but I’ll tell you that it is not what I expected…and yet it seemed perfectly expected after seeing it.

The production design for this film is perfect. From the sets and locations to the costumes and props, everything was perfectly chosen by Ford and his team of craftsmen. I just love George’s black eyeglasses and his impeccable clothing. The house that George lives in is a beautiful piece of mid-century modern architecture combining both simplicity and warmth. Of course George’s partner Jim was an architect, as the movies are so fond of using as a profession for characters. As an Architect, I will admit that I love the admiration the movies have for architects…and a part of me always lights up when I hear or see someone playing an architect in a film.

After watching A Single Man back on July 6, I immediately bought it on bluray the next day, along with the soundtrack from iTunes. I instantly knew this film belonged not only in my movie and music collections but in my Top 100 movies of all time. Music Composers Abel Korzeniowski and Shigeru Umebayashi crafted the most incredible poetic soundtrack for this film. The opening credit sequence starts with the song “Drowning”, which is an eery orchestral piece that’s perfectly accompanied to the naked underwater images of Colin Firth “drowning”. But the first song of the soundtrack titled “Stillness of the Mind”, is the music that makes my soul weep every time I hear it. The violin solo and backing orchestra are so tender and emotional in their playing of this lovingly crafted piece of music. It just pulls feeling out of its listeners and makes them pay attention to both the joy and sadness within themselves. This soundtrack was grossly overlooked by the Academy…it should have been nominated for an Oscar for Best Music (Original Score).

To be honest, this movie was grossly overlooked in several categories by the Oscars, except for Colin Firth’s nomination for Best Actor. A Single Man should have been nominated for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Editing as well.  I think the main reason this film was overlooked by the Academy is the same reason it was overlooked by the public. On the surface, it’s a “gay” movie about a gay man and was directed by a gay man. And yet this movie has nothing really to do with sex. It could as easily be told about a straight man. It’s simply a story about lost love. But mainstream America is still unable to see past things that appear to be gay or have a gay feel to them, and A Single Man is simply a victim of that bias. But I have a feeling this film will stand the test of time and that people will discover it and appreciate it over the years to come. And whatever next film Tom Ford makes will surely pull more fans into his work who’ll discover this treasure as well. I for one am extremely anxious to see what masterpiece Ford crafts for his second feature film. His debut was brilliant and will be hard to live up to. But if anyone can do it, Tom Ford seems to be the man. He’s a perfectionist like myself and simply won’t settle for much less. He’s switched from focusing on fashion to film as his passion, which he has said is where he can express himself more fully. And ironically, he was trained as an architect like myself. This film was built like an architect would build it.

This entry was posted in 5 star movies, Movies by Brad Swenson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Brad Swenson

Appreciating and contributing to the art and craft of movies, television, videos, and photography is my daily mission in life. My canvas for expression is emotion. I'm driven to discover and share interesting stories about people, their actions, their thoughts, their feelings, their work, and their contributions to the web of life.

14 thoughts on “A Single Man

  1. Ok, I saw this movie on your list of favs, and I decided to watch it last night. About a third of the way through it I decided to take some notes, because I think I see what you like in the movie, but you also stated that it was one of your all-time favorite movies. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the “movie”.

    Very interesting visually, I liked the Hitchcock-like camera angles and use of time sequencing in the film. The film’s use of sound was also very strategic with periods of deafening silence followed by very specific sounds that create intensity. The use of field of focus was also very interesting. ie. the distortion of Charley’s eye as it comes into focus. Each scene was constructed as though it was trying to say something more about the scene than just the dialogue and context. And Firth and Julianne Moore do very good performances. Although this seems to be the same thing we alway get from Firth in his movies. Melancholy that looks like he needs to spend some time on the toilet. But all of this is wasted, for several reasons.

    First it’s not really a movie. It lacks a story, or at least a believable story. And the characters are substantially underdeveloped. I became quite bored at times as the film dragged on… George please shoot yourself already.

    I’m sure the gay community finds the intimacy real and developed by the filmmaker. I didn’t believe any of the characters and as a result, I didn’t feel much sympathy for the characters. Actually, it was a thinly disguised message film. “Gay people are just like heterosexual people in that they too love and feel pain. And you should feel bad if you are anti the gay lifestyle. And it’s because of “FEAR” that you are prejudice, just like the NAZIs.” In fact that was what the film was… from the beginning, where he found out that he couldn’t go to the funeral. It wasn’t artful, it was just blatant; you should feel bad for George.

    While this film will placate the homosexual community, by making gay folks feel that someone else feels their pain too, it doesn’t do much as a movie. It’s the same pathetic theme from scene to scene. I never felt that George was suicidal because of the loss of his lover. Nor that there was any substance in any of the characters he met throughout the day. The film made me feel as though George was suicidal because of his own selfishness. In fact, here is a new theme for this movie…. Selfish, Self-Pity for living a lifestyle that he knows is not right, but can’t seem to eradicate from his mind.

    • Well I appreciate your willingness to watch A Single Man, Johnny (Cole). Most people probably wouldn’t even be willing to do that. And I’m glad to see that you appreciated the cinematic aspects of the “movie” (as you call it), i.e. the cinematography and acting. I doubt anyone can argue that the movie doesn’t look interesting and unique.

      As far as there being a lack of story, I wholeheartedly disagree with your assessment. While you might not have liked the story, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Just like while you might not like gay people, that does not mean they don’t exist. The key thing about movies IMO is that they either tell a story that one is interested in or can relate to, or they don’t. And that’s mostly on the viewer, not the filmmakers. The filmmakers are simply telling a story in the way they want to tell it. It’s up to us as viewers to open up to that story and its way of being told. The same is true of any artform, like sculpture, photography, or painting. Art is in the eye of the beholder, not the artist.

      I certainly agree that this movie was much more targeted at a gay audience and is much more appealing as a story to gay people. It’s also a story of depression, love, loneliness, and suicide. It’s not always easy to understand stories that we can’t relate to. While I can get into the war stories of Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker, or The Thin Red Line, how can I really understand those stories when I have never served in the military or been in war or killed another human being? But I enjoy those movies in part because the filmmakers behind them found a way for me to pretend to be in those stories and get a sense of how those characters must feel. And I am interested in feeling what those characters feel.

      In A Single Man, I found myself interested in feeling what George is feeling, in part because I have had many of the same feelings, especially the feelings of love, loneliness, depression and suicide. So I could relate to the story easily. There were also aspects of the film I couldn’t relate to, but still found myself feeling at some level through George. Like George’s speech in his class, we can all relate to feeling persecuted or isolated because of something we have or someway that we are. Having been bullied and made fun of for not fitting in all throughout my life, I feel a lot like George. So his story felt in large part like my own. I don’t expect too many people to understand this movie because it requires them to open up to dark, negative feelings and thoughts that most people don’t want to feel or think about. It requires viewers to also look at things from a point of view other than their own I think.

      A Single Man is in my Top100 films of all time. It currently resides in the 51-100 range. So there are at least 50 films I like a little better. Dead Poet’s Society is a very similar story to A Single Man, and that movie is in my Top10…partly because it was probably one of the first movies I saw that felt like my own story, and I saw it at that critical High School age in the 80s. I also feel like Good Will Hunting, Life As A House and Field of Dreams are all movies that tell my story to a large extent. Field of Dreams is Top 5 for me, and the other two are Top 25. Even Bill Murray’s dramedy Groundhog Day is Top 50 for me and a movie whose story I relate strongly to. Anyways, my point is that movies are a reflection of our own personal stories, of what we like, what we feel, what we think, etc. That’s why no two people would have the same Top100 movie list. A Single Man is one of the 100 movies that define me.

  2. One other item I just thought of in response to your critique Johnny. Movies are both art and entertainment. That mix between art and entertainment is defined differently for every single person, much like our own sexuality is a mix between gay and straight. Some people fall on the side of wanting movies to be pure entertainment, and some fall on the side of wanting movies to be pure art. And then there are those that fall in the middle gray zone. You can look at any year’s movie releases and see the full spectrum of movies from pure art to pure entertainment. Hollywood typically falls on the side of entertainment more than art, but they do still make entertaining movies that are also artistic. Last year’s 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees are a great reflection of that mix. None of them were purely entertainment or art. And The Hurt Locker, which won Best Picture, was a bit of an awkward mix of art & entertainment IMO, yet probably the best of the bunch. Avatar was a little too much entertainment and technology, and not enough art, hence why the Academy voters didn’t reward it like they did with Katherine Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.

    I believe that the best movies are almost always a mix of both art and entertainment, falling somewhere in the gray mix. I probably lean more towards art than entertainment, but I still need some entertainment. My Top100 movies certainly reflect that thinking, and AFI’s Top 100 movies of all time reflects it as well. I’d be curious to see your Top100 movie list sometime and see where you fall.

    A Single Man definitely falls close to pure art and has little “entertainment” for most people. But that’s also what I like about it. But I also like Die Hard, Indiana Jones and Star Wars along with it!

  3. I love this entire blog post! Honestly this is how I felt once I watched the movie for the first time, and having just rewatched it I was once again reminded of the beauty and subtlety that Tom Ford used to create such a deep emotional movie. I can see how someone could see this film and not see character development or action but that too me is the true genius of it. The events that occur throughout the day are seemingly small but have such a huge impact on his thoughts, on his soul really and it’s amazing to see the power of friendship and small acts of love transform him in a single day. I also would disagree with Cole that it was a “message film” yes the film was about a gay man, and directed by one but I don’t think the message was to guilt trip those who don’t agree with homosexuality but instead show how universal love is, and the pain of love lost. I am not homosexual but I could understand and feel George’s despair (Colin Firth was amazing) even if he only showed it to you in subtle ways. I also found the story very believable and the characters realistic, becuase I connected with the emotions that George was feeling and even those around him like Charlie and Kenny. Just not exactly belonging in the world in the right way, and feeling alone because of it.

    I just loved the whole movie, and definitely will be purchasing it soon. Just wanted to comment because I think you spoke perfectly about this movie and did it justice!


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