I have had the great pleasure to have both read and watched A Single Man. The short novel by Christopher Isherwood is the story of a gay college professor in southern California whose partner is dead. He still lives in the home where they used to live, and many of his neighbors and colleagues believe that his partner simply left or that they have broken up, as George has never opened up to any of them. The novel takes place over the time period of a little more than a day, and the movie follows suit in a beautiful ballet of color, symbolism and style.
“A Single Man,” which was released in 2009, is Tom Ford’s first and only film to date. Granted, he’s only had three year’s time since, but IMDb.com doesn’t indicate that he’s currently working on anything. Usually a fashion designer, Ford decided to write, direct and produce his own feature, and he did it extremely well. Though Ford’s version is slightly different than the book, it hits the same beats and takes the viewer through the same mind processes as the book does. This is a great accomplishment in the part of the adaptation, as the book itself is completely in George’s head.
The film follows a day in the life of George, a gay, single man. Within the day, he interacts with his neighbors, who know who he is but who rarely include him in activities (though they make an effort), his co-workers at the university, a particularly friendly student named Kenny and his friend from England, Charlotte. The plot is wrought with flashes of George’s thoughts about his dead lover Jim and about his life in general. The story itself is slow moving, with climaxes that are small and subtle but not unsatisfying. For example, the purchasing of a pencil sharpener is one of the more important incidents in the film, as is the “simple” asking for a cigarette.
These moments are drawn out, often with slow motion and amazing use of color and filters. The cigarette scene looks like an old photograph, where a memory of Jim is in high contrast black and white. Each coloring and filter choice is supposed to bring the audience further into the mind of George and help us to experience what he is experiencing, so in that sense it is a highly first-person experience. Through the time of one day, we get so into George’s head that it feels as if we’ve known him for a lifetime, and the mise-en-scene is so memorable that you can carry this film with you after it’s over.
The amazing cast was a big part of why this film was so successful, with Colin Firth getting a nomination for best actor in the 2010 Oscars. They bring subtle acting styles to the subtle plot and create believable characters that we care about, hate and admire. This movie almost brought me to tears and that was due not only to the directing, story and emotional editing, but also to the acting.
Tom Ford shows great maturity and skill in his crafts (both writing and directing) especially for a filmmaker’s first time out. He explains this by saying that he believes that in order to make movies you have to have a goal or cause that you, the filmmaker, are passionate about, and that is what will make others around you passionate about your work (collider.com). Though he is hesitant to link his successful career of fashion designer to his new career as filmmaker, the influences of style and attention to detail show brilliantly in his film. Though he seems to be a designer first and claims to be taking a break from filmmaking for a while, I feel that this new director has extreme potential and should continue to do this for the rest of his life. Hopefully we’ll see more films from Tom Ford soon, but in the meantime, you should definitely give “A Single Man” your attention.