Elegy (Spoiler Alert: Someone Dies!)

Posted in Movies by NAN on 2009/01/26
Penelope Cruz in Elegy (2008)

Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz), the young and sultry MFA student having an affair with her professor (Ben Kingsley) in Elegy (2008), Isabel Coixet's adaptation of The Dying Animal by Philip Roth.

I think it was Bette Davis who said “Old age is not for sissies.” but it was Tolstoy who said “The biggest surprise in a man’s life is old age.”

So David (Ben Kingsley) narrates at the movie’s opening sequence. Thus, we’re told that this is a story about his difficult life as an old man. At the same time, we also realize that he’s going to fall in love and that he’s probably dying. The stage is set for a sad ending.

Having seen the dysfunctional self-help columnist in Dan in Real Life (Steve Carrel), the ultraegoist asshole professor in Smart People (Dennis Quaid), and the suicidal gay scholar in Little Miss Sunshine (also Steve Carrel), this old man is already familiar yet also a revelation. More than his contemporaries, David is articulated in his love for Goya, his black and white photography, his bashful piano concertos, his daring scholarship on Puritan orgies, and his unabashed love for breasts. Certainly, there was sincerity in this character, and he is not just there to poke fun at hypocritical journalists, self-absorbed academicians, or queer depressives. When talking to his best friend George (Dennis Hopper), he seems honest enough—one who doesn’t know better than his commitment and fatherhood issues.

When his son (Peter Sarsgaard) confides an affair, he couldn’t give a proper advice. When his long-time fuck buddy (Patricia Clarkson) throws a bitch fit about another woman’s tampons in his toilet, he uses his friend to cover his ass. When he gets cold feet right before meeting Consuela’s family, he makes a lame car breakdown excuse. And Kingsley actually delivers (like a mild Malkovich) against the equally exquisite performances by Sarsgaard and Clarkson. Meanwhile, Penelope should’ve gotten that Oscar nom for this movie and not for Vicky Christina Barcelona. But then again, the academy probably prefers darkroom lovin that takes longer and involves more people. She didn’t just bare her tits generously but actually gave Consuela, as David said, an elegant austerity.

Differently from how I loved her work in Paris, je t’aime, Isabel Coixet comes up with something that isn’t just smart but also sexy although probably a little indulgent for other people’s taste (not mine!). I think she also owed it to Roth’s novelistic language as in:

On the nights she isn’t with me, I am deformed.
Making love to a woman is a revenge for all the things that defeated you in life.
Beautiful women are invisible.

How everything draws towards the end is marked by time, like David’s music guided by his metronome, like George’s death that marks his poetic achievement and the return of his wife, like Consuela’s crucial call that drops on New Year’s Eve, and it still it arrives like a thief. As an elegy, it’s not for his vagrant life nor George’s late reconciliation. It’s for the death of resistance against the woman beautiful as the warrior who cut off her breast so she can arrow faster. It’s for the indifference to the eyes of Goya’s The Clothed Maja, the art who owned him from the beginning.


3 Responses

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  1. […] high preschool teacher, and I couldn’t have tolerated her if not for her British accent. While I favor being sober, I gave her a chance to show me that maybe I can spare some space for […]

  2. Hannah said, on 2009/02/01 at 11:24 PM

    Didn’t read everything coz I don’t like spoilers but… Penelope again!! ^_^ I love all of her movies!!! She just ads so much flavour to it!! Like Vanila sky, woman on top and Vicky Christina Barcelona!

  3. nan said, on 2009/02/01 at 11:27 PM

    @Hannah No major spoiler naman, just being sarcastic. I actually think this merits her the Oscar nomination more than Vicky Christina Barcelona. You should see it. 😉

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