It is a rare movie that can use style as a character, but Tom Ford’s A Single Man with its sparse dialog and rich cinematography uses that to its full power. Perhaps it is fitting that a fashion designer would use the perfection of one’s suits to signify a fastidiousness, yet it is more than just a movie the revels in the style of the early sixties, although with its nod to Mad Men it certainly does. It lets the physical describe the emotional, lets it be a mirror for the character’s emotional state.
The story is simple enough: a gay professor, George Falconer, spends the day preparing for his suicide while he flashes back at the life he led with his lover who was killed in a car crash. So overwhelmed with grief and isolated by the secretive live he has to lead he wants to die. It is almost comical when he finally tires to shoot himself and cannot because of the mess it will make.
All through the movie, though, what he finds though is not a uninterested world, but one that exists even in spite of his grief and which he can find something redeeming in. Which is not to say he is free to live an open life, but there is the suggestion that he is not isolated both in grief and socially. What makes the isolation even more stark is not just emotional, but the almost perfect world he inhabits: perfectly pressed suits; a glass house that is kept perfectly; a car without the least spot. He has ensconced himself in a perfection that he did not have when he met his departed lover at the end of WWII. Everything is so perfect that there is no room anything else. He has to either carry on or give up, since all he has is a perfection that cannot change. And it is in this sense that style becomes such a strong presence that it demands a certain response, a certain immobility. Ultimately, it is youth that saves and while it might be a cliche the young student is not as enamored with the fastidious life and can do without his suits and other things. Yet one has to wonder as the camera longingly gazes on the student can George break free of such hard worn habits.
A Single Man is a refreshingly gorgeous film that doesn’t waste its style on the fallacious, and its emotional depths will stay with one as long as the visual style.