A Single Man
Dir: Tom Ford
The Weinstein Company
Based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel, A Single Man is fashion designer Tom Ford’s first foray into filmmaking but rather than be the tentative work of a neophyte director, Ford’s debut is a stunning tour de force of visual and artistic mastery. Chronicling one day in the life of Thomas Falconer (Colin Firth), a gay college professor grief-stricken by the sudden death of his lover, A Single Man seamlessly blends present and past through imaginative close-ups, jump cuts and a milieu where closeted repression was the norm.
Though the film may seem lustrous and polished, there is enough under the surface to justify some of Ford’s directorial excesses of close-ups on supple male bodies and water imagery. Firth gives the performance of his career as the strait-laced Falconer who not only feels an outcast as a Briton in southern California, but a closeted homosexual in a time and place where xenophobia ran rampant. But the death of his much younger lover Jim (Matthew Goode) has not only made Falconer pause to reconsider his place in society, but question the regurgitated nonsense and fear he instills in his students each and every day.
As the film begins, Falconer awakens to the decision that this one day will be different. We soon learn that the difference will be a carefully executed suicide attempt. While much of the film could have followed a “will he or won’t he” trajectory, Ford focuses more on Falconer’s grief and feelings of isolation rather fixate on the melodramatic crux of whether the suicide will take place or not.
A key scene happens early in the film when Falconer disconnects from his rote lecture to pontificate on how the people who run the country use the fear of difference to create fear and control the populace. While most students sit through this notion with vapid indifference, one young man (Nicholas Hoult) picks up on Falconer’s message and reaches out to the walled-off professor. As Falconer later tells this student, he realizes the only moments in his life that have been worth a damn are those when he truly connects with another person. Just like Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, that fear of connection, of actually knowing another human being is powerful and scary. Ford shows this connection in flashbacks with Jim, a kindred spirit in that feeling of repression and a dinner with former lover Julianne Moore as the boozy Charlie.
But the soul of the film belongs to both Ford and Firth, both who display bravado and daring that carry us to the heartbreaking finale. For any of us, gay or straight, who never felt we fit in, A Single Man is a thought-provoking, cautionary tragedy that masterfully encapsulates life’s fleeting pleasures that we do not appreciate until it’s too late.