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A Single Man

Time runs out for the confirmed bachelo

Dec. 23, 2009
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George Falconer awakens again from a nightmare in which the body of his longtime lover, Jim, appears on the roadside after the car wreck that killed him a few months earlier. Falconer was always the dour Englishman, an expatriate literature professor in Los Angeles, but Jim’s death pushed him into a deeper funk. Waking is a cold reminder that time is running out. For him, the awful ticking of the clock that is A Single Man’s audio motif has more than abstract significance. Later that day, after the meticulous preparation characteristic of his orderly life, Falconer plans to kill himself.

Set in fall of 1962 against a drumbeat of ominous news during the Cuban Missile Crisis, A Single Man is the story of an ebbing life adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s novel by fashion designer Tom Ford in his directorial debut. Colin Firth is able as Falconer, a carefully and comfortably closeted gay man in a society with little tolerance for aberrance of any sort. A cagey social critic in a nation barely recovered from the hangover of McCarthyism, he complains to a colleague that the college’s bovine students aspire to nothing but corporate jobs and raising doltish children, who will amuse themselves by singing soda-pop jingles learned from television. “A world with no time for sentiment is not a world I want to live in,” Falconer says with a note of finality.

Ford visualizes Falconer’s thoughts as he slips in and out of past and present with a profusion of images, sometimes illuminating and sometimes not. The director is enamored of arty tics, including grotesque close-ups, which serve no purpose. And yet the mood of his highly stylized treatment of Isherwood’s story, set to a high-strung neo-romantic score, lingers in memory on the strength of the twilight emotions it suggests. A Single Man also stars Julianne Moore as the woman Falconer continues to love, another English expatriate whose dreams have slipped away.


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