Death shrouds Tom Ford’s adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel A Single Man. Its protagonist, George Falconer, is a rarity in fiction, and on film: a gay middle-aged academic who hides his grief under an air of poised inscrutability. He’s an Englishman in a southern California city who’s wrapping up the last day of his life: we watch him banter with his housekeeper, teach a literature course, make dinner plans and tend to the details of his finances, all with the knowledge that he plans to kill himself at day’s end.
If holiday uplift is what you seek, you won’t find it in A Single Man, an intelligent meditation on mortality, morality and the inherent tragedy of one’s middle years as George alternately paces through his last day and recalls a life that’s lost its meaning since the recent death of his younger lover in a car accident. But this is a film that eschews the maudlin. Ford employs surprising mirage-like images that heighten each of George’s encounters with a quiet, almost acerbic melancholy, so that the viewer feels the inevitable rush of tragedy like waves breaking on the West Coast surf. George compels so much sympathy that ultimately his choice emerges as an act of liberation, a heraldic letting go.
A Single Man hardly feels like a debut. Whatever your impressions of Tom Ford, this is elegant, eloquent filmmaking that’s so easy and unforced you’d think this former purveyor of luxe fashion had been making movies for years. He’s cast it beyond reproach—Colin Firth’s George is a suave, subtle mask of a man whose cracks surface almost imperceptibly. As Charley, the female friend who always wanted to be more, Julianne Moore creates another beguiling character who manages to simultaneously amuse and break our hearts. Matthew Goode as the dead lover Jim, Nicholas Hoult as a shy, sexually ambivalent student, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jon Kortajarena and a small complement of other wonderful actors support them ably. See it–A Single Man is the kind of thoughtful intelligent work that feels honest and true. See it.