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Literature: A Single Man

Just get through the goddamn day.
George Falconer

A Single Man is a 1964 novel written by Christopher Isherwood, who also wrote Goodbye to Berlin, the source material of Cabaret. In 2009, Tom Ford directed and co-wrote the film version, starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

The eponymous single man is George Falconer, a middle-aged British college professor who lives in Los Angeles. His closest friend is Charlotte, and his secret lover is Jim. Then, sometime in early 1962, Jim dies unexpectedly in a car crash. After that, George must re-evaluate his purpose in life as he tries to get through a single day.

This work features examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: Kenny.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with a shot of Jim's dead body lying in the snow, being approached by an out of place George dressed in a crisp black suit. George lies down and gives Jim a kiss and then moves away. the film ends with Jim in the same sort of black suit, walking into the room where George lies, dying, and giving him a kiss, before leaving. it is impossible for either man to see the others death. as George is across the country when Jim dies, and Jim has been dead for months by the time George dies., which is what makes this example of Book Ends memorable, heartwarming and depressing all in one
  • Bury Your Gays: Jim died in a car crash before the events of the film and George dies of a heart attack at the end.
  • The Cameo: Jon Hamm of Mad Men's fame is the man who makes the phone call regarding Jim's death. A very fitting cameo given the similarities in production values and setting of the two works. (Dan Bishop is behind both as production designer).
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Charley asks George if he's OK after that heart-attack thing he had. Which, it transpires, he isn't
    • Did anyone else think the second missing dog was also a Chekhov's Gun?
    • Was the dog George meets later on supposed to be the missing dog?
    • Nope, not in the book; that was probably just meant to be a sweet/sad moment of loss and remembering.
  • Death by Despair: Possibly. Rather than a Diabolus ex Machina, it seems likely that the heart condition that kills George was aggravated - if not outright caused - by his grief over Jim's death. It happens.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Many examples, but the biggest is probably George carrying a gun, though unloaded, in his briefcase at both an educational facility and inside a bank. A person doing that in this day and age, whether or not they had any plans to hurt or rob anyone, would be in very hot water if discovered. Another possible example is Kenny asking if George is going to take a shower, too. There's a strong implication Kenny means the two of them taking it together. George refuses due to his attraction to Kenny, and the audience isn't sure what Kenny's motive for asking is. However, since they did go swimming naked together, there's a possibility that men taking showers together was considered perfectly platonic and non-taboo.
  • Doing It for the Art: Tom Ford self-financed the film version, and even had to personally ask Colin Firth to accept the part.
  • Downer Ending: George dies of a likely heart attack.
  • Driven to Suicide
  • Incompatible Orientation: Charlotte and George.
  • No Bisexuals: Interestingly averted. After George admits he's slept with Charlotte in the past, Jim asks him why he's with him if he sleeps with women. George doesn't say that it was experimentation or a mistake, he just says that even though he sleeps with women he only falls in love with men, implying he may actually be attracted to women. His fixation on his secretary's beauty, with all the close-ups of her eyes and hair, may have been a small nod to this.
  • Oscar Bait
  • Race Lift: Lois was Japanese-American in the book. The script deliberately called for a white, blonde actress to play the part. For a non-speaking part during two scenes, mind you, so that even the possible defense of not being able to find a passable Asian-American actress wouldn't hold water.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog
  • Skinny Dipping: George and Kenny.
  • Snow Means Death: Jim dies on a snowy road.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Whether the crush applies or not is ambiguous, but Kenny finding out George's address from the school secretary, wandering around George's neighbourhood in an attempt to run into him, and implying he's been watching George out-of-class while George was unaware of his presence covers the stalker aspect.
  • The Oner: the phone-call scene.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: All of George's important relationships fit this. Jim wasn't wild, but he was more emotionally open and comfortable in his own skin. If not for Incompatible Orientation, George and Charley likely would have stayed together. Kenny had characteristics of both Jim and Charley and was the catalyst for helping George reconnect to life. Even Carlos, the male prostitute who George talked to, could be argued to fit the trope.
  • What Beautiful Eyes: A lot of the camera work focuses on eyes.

A Serious ManThe SixtiesTaking Woodstock
Sin NombreFilms of 2005 - 2009 The Slammin' Salmon

alternative title(s): A Single Man; A Single Man
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