Monday, December 10, 2012

Son of Saturday At the Movies: Colin Firth x2; A Single Man and Dorian Gray

All right, so it's been a while since we've had one of these entries, so no number for now. It's been a big few months, some of the big stuff good, some not, but one of the good things is finding the library system in Albany is amazing when it comes to movies, and I am once again gorging myself. This week, it's period dramas, no surprise there. This week, I borrowed two Colin Firth films and one Firth-less classic I've been meaning to see for literally decades, but more on that later.

Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, A Single Man doesn't dwell much on that world event, keeping the tight focus instead on the title character, George Falconer, a British college professor living and working in the US. George, when we meet him, is in deep grief over the death of his lover, Jim, some months past. Time has moved on, but George has not, the loss of Jim still as sharp and keen as when he first got word of the accident. George gets through his days but everything is empty, and the day that we meet George is in fact the day that he plans to make his last.

George methodically gets his affairs in order, says things he's always meant to say, everything so that he can be done with the never ending grief. The matter of fact tasks George performs are interspersed with vivid memories of life with Jim, which makes George's state all the keener. Life continues to pull at him; an inquisitive student, adult and child neighbors he's kept at arms' length, a chance encounter with a stranger, dinner with a female friend who deals with her own torment by different means. Colin Firth is amazing, and this is one film where every shot counts. The use of color, the incidental music, the blocking, set design, everything has a role in telling us George's story, and when the resolution comes, we can understand how it got there. Definitely have to buy this one for multiple viewings.

You know the story; Dorian doesn't age, but his picture does, and appearance is hugely important in this story, but it's not about looks. Oh sure, we have Ben Barnes and Colin Firth, and a gorgeous set with the right feel of opulent claustrophobia at all the right moments, but as the not-yet-corrupted Dorian says early on in the film, what about a man's soul? Colin Firth's Lord Henry scoffs at the very notion and commits his own soul to hell, later asking Dorian if he'll do the same. Wrong choice, Dorian. Wrong choice, but amazing story, courtesy of Oscar Wilde.

This is another one I have to own, so I can see it by myself and catch the multiple layers. Both lead actors do a marvelous job, and where Dorian throws himself into sybaritic excess, it's Henry who finds growth. Though he takes fatherhood lightly at first, the daughter born soon after Dorian makes his fateful choice, gives Henry the heart he'd always denied. Seasoned readers/viewers know where this is going. Dissolute Dorian, who has already had blood and everything else on his hands, falls for Henry's daughter, Emily. This is not a romance, and Dorian reaps what he sowed, big time. The climax is horrifying, both in what's shown and what's not, and even as we know this is how things have to end, there's still a smidge of sympathy for Dorian, who can't find a way to turn back from what he's become. The final scene with Henry, alone, haunts. I loved the way this movie handled the passage of time; motor cars, telephones, Henry ages, Dorian does not, the hissing breaths from the shaded portrait. There's tragic loves, grief, despair, gorgeous sets and costumes, friendships that go through hell, tasteful and yet visceral historical gore, all combining to leave me one very, very satisified viewer.

Neither of these are for the faint of heart, but for those who want to dive in deep into emotional viscera, two thumbs up. Next up for me: Dr. Zhivago.

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