I never intended to rewatch A Single Man. A friend and I went to see it at the tiny independent theater in our college town, and we had exactly the sort of curious, stylish time we expected and wanted, and that was that. But recently, I discovered there’s a certain mood in which all you want to do is watch the sort of movie where the opening credits play over footage of a beautiful naked man slowly dance-drowning in dark blue water. Actually, perhaps the better verbing is “put on.” You want to “put on” a movie where that happens, because A Single Man is somehow meditative and background even when you’re intently watching it. It’s kinda remarkable in that respect.
I’m really glad that enough people perked up at the idea of noted fashion designer Tom Ford directing an adaptation of a Christopher Isherwood novel that he managed to get Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, because he gave them roles very suited to them. Which makes sense after all — things being well fit is rather Tom Ford’s whole purpose. They look so lovely. Everyone looks so lovely. The 1960s, lovely; Los Angeles, lovely. So lovely even though they are all so, so broken, time, place, and people all together.
If I recall, critical talk on this movie was overwhelmingly concerned with style and aesthetics, given who helmed it, and some were willing to say that was “all” it is. But I suspect Ford knew exactly what his strengths would be, because A Single Man is constructed to be purposefully concerned with the look of things. It treats the beauty of the world as something to be sincerely, purely appreciated, even more so for a man who has decided to leave the world today. The very colors on screen bloom forward into high saturation whenever our heartbroken professor notices a particularly pleasing detail — a woman’s eyeliner, a young man’s mouth, the smell of a dog’s fur, a smile, a California sunset. Everything is a little more precious, because it will be the last.
Perhaps the most beautiful and befuddling thing in Professor Falconer’s life is his student Kenny, played by Nicholas Hoult at his most preposterously anime. He looks angelic to the point of sinfulness, which is a feat that took more than simply draping him in pale pink angora, although they did that too. For my money, the role he plays in this movie might be the most interesting part, as a boy who seems every inch a symbol at first and yet keeps flaring up with his own weird spark. There’s a fascinating dualism to Kenny, pushing and protecting in equal measure. He’s something more of a true angel than he first seems, might be the way to put it.
Anyhow, if you’re going to watch A Single Man you either already have, or were sold in the first paragraph. Or perhaps you were waiting for this: Julianne Moore has what looks to be a small citrus grove inside her house, and at one point grooves to “Green Onions” in her perfect black & white mod frock.