Being homosexual in the sixties was a hard thing to be. Especially if you wanted to be accepted into normal society. In a Single Man, Tom Ford explores what that isolation means to one man. A Single Man.
George is a university professor in California. He is also incredibly lonely and single. He is single because his lover died eight months ago. This lover was his life. He was his reason for living. George can no longer go on. But go on he does. He gets dressed. He goes to work. He teaches a class on Huxley. He interacts with a student, a fellow teacher, and a drifter. All of these interactions feel rote and like they are missing something. Something necessary to make them important. But George notes these interactions, making fun of his colleague’s need to build a bomb shelter, touched by his student buying him an eraser, and loving the burn of a cigarette that he gets from the drifter. Each moment will be the last of its kind, at least for him. He is determined to meet his lover in the afterlife. Several times he tries, but he keeps not succeeding. After one of these times, he goes over to Charley’s house to have dinner with her. Charley is lonely and a drunk. She is just as lonely as George. And maybe just as desperate to have some semblance of a human connection. She wants desperately for George to be straight, for him to care for her like he did for his lover. But this will never be. No one can change who they prefer or who they fall in love with. George escapes Charley’s clutches and tries once again. This time, he is distracted by the memory of meeting his lover for the first time. He goes to the same bar he saw him and meets the same student that bought him an eraser earlier in the day. Could this student be his saving grace? The student seems to see through his placid exterior and into the deep loneliness of his subconscious.
Colin Firth is easily the most amazing thing about this movie. He embodies the hurt and loneliness, the need to hide from everybody just to survive, so innately that I believed he once went through a similar experience. Firth takes this extended fashion shoot full of insanely beautiful but ultimately banal settings and breathes life into them. Take for instance the scene where he interacts with the drifter. He is outside a liquor store. He pulls his beautiful sixties car in front of a huge poster of Psycho with Janet Leigh screaming. The haze of the sun burning onto the concrete makes this scene feel like it is one of those Vogue fashion shoots that Ford is so known for. The drifter is an impossibly handsome Spanish man with a James Dean outfit and outlook. He can barely speak his lines. He is the worst actor I have seen in a professional film like this in a long time. But Firth takes this terrible acting and turns it into a touching moment when he reaches out and takes a cigarette from him. Firth takes this scene from inside a glossy fashion magazine and places it in a high quality drama. He breathes life into places where there isn’t really life before. In the scenes with Julianne Moore for instance. I love Julianne Moore, but she is positioned to be just a walking mannequin who drinks. Even her outburst towards the end of their conversation feels like it comes out of a talking doll. There is no life in her eyes. But Firth is able to take the literal nothingness that Moore is giving him and transform into cinematic gold. He produces one of the most touching moments in the film. See this movie for the sets and for Firth. But mostly for Firth.