come_to_think (come_to_think) wrote,

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A Single Man

Movie:   A Single Man (2009).

When I heard about this movie, I reread the book ( & prepared to be disappointed.  The other day I got around to buying the DVD.  It includes a version with a subtitles & a voiceover, which is doubly useful to the likes of me in eking out my poor hearing and explaining what the makers of the film thought they were doing.

They put in a surprising amount of what was in the book, but as I expected, they had to leave a lot out.  They did get one bit of fantasy in:

  But your book is wrong, Mrs. Strunk, says George [in his imagination], when it tells you that Jim is the substitute I found for a real son, a real kid brother, a real husband, a real wife.  Jim wasn't a substitute for anything.  And there is no substitute for Jim, if you'll forgive my saying so, anywhere.
The movie has to move that remark from fantasy to "reality" & turn it into a retort to his lady friend Charley, who has thereby been turned into something of a bitch.  Indeed, the makers of the movie did not like the homely character in the book:

Her poor cheeks are swollen and inflamed now, and her hair, which must once have made a charming blur around her face, is merely untidy.
In the movie, her hair is --- words fail me.

It strikes me now that they might have accommodated some more of the fantasies by acting them out, Walter Mitty fashion, with perhaps a musical motif to signal their unreality.  But even so, they would have had to leave out a lot of what was going on in his mind.  One picture is worth a thousand words, and takes as much disk space as a million.

Likewise, they did not like the professor's home & neighborhood, which Isherwood describes in fond detail: a bungalow in a gently decaying, slighly raffish development from the 1920s.  They have put him instead in a small but luxurious modern house.  The voiceover explains that he could afford it because he had an independent income, and claims to know better than the author what George needs; but that seems to me a mere excuse.  There is evidently a convention in the industry that no principal character can live in a house that costs less than a million dollars.

In the movie, the telephone conversation in which George is told of Jim's death is a big deal: he isn't invited to the funeral because he is not family, and that shows how powerful homophobia was in those days.  But in the book, it is a good deal subtler: he is invited, and gives "a curt No, thank you", thereby perhaps quelling speculations about the two of them, and in any case avoiding an embarrassing chore.

There is an implausible conversation in which Kenny, the undergraduate (he is said to be 21, but that is probably to avoid legal difficulties; he looks like a freshman), tries to persuade the professor to try out mescaline --- in 1962!  I suppose the idea is, this is The Sixties, so we have to put something druggy in.

I was warned by a review that in the movie George intends & prepares to kill himself that day.  His joy with Kenny dissuades him, but then he has the stroke all the same, not in his sleep (as in the book), but on the way to bed.  That makes it a different story --- I suppose no better & no worse --- in that his awareness that he is living his last day colors everything.  I myself liked Isherwood's version better --- just an ordinary day, happening to be the last.

In the movie, Kenny is in the living room, asleep.  There is no hint of how he will handle waking up in a dead man's house.  What a horrid loose end!

The (dis)credits at the end go on & on.  What labor & expense went into this thing!  Read the book.
Tags: books, isherwood, movies
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