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[251] A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood

“Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove . . . nearly every morning, that George, having reached the bottom of the stairs, has this sensation of suddenly finding himself on an abrupt, brutally broken off, jagged edge . . . It is here that he stops short and knows, with a sick newness, almost as though it were for the first time: Jim is dead. Is dead.” [12-13]

With precision and unsentimentality of a camera age, A Single Man follows a day of George Falconer’s life. Isherwood’s stream of consciousness has captured with brilliance the texture of life in George, an English professor in a state college who is mourning the death of his lover of 16 years for several months now. Jim’s death has sent him into depression, fueled by spasms of painful memories and undercurrents, as flashbacks of Jim puncture his daily life.

Isherwood imbues a vivaciousness to the most mundane and transcendent details that fill up a day of George’s life, zooming in on the details of eating breakfast, grooming, and accosting neighbors. Most significantly, his loneliness is made complete as the connections he makes throughout the day one by one fall short of the intimacy he shared with Jim. Friends on his school’s faculty are mere acquaintance. In the classroom, George feels misgiving that, despite his oratorial brilliance, he is not reaching his students. At the gym, he enters into a sit-up competition with a teenager whom he finds incipiently attractive. In the hospital he visits a dying man, also involved in the car crash that killed Jim, who was once a rival to his lover’s affection. His best friend Charlotte’s efforts to sentimentalize things crash into George’s homosexuality. Through his loneliness, his love for Jim is made complete because without Jim, George Falconer is a live dying creature.

But does Uncle George want to be obeyed? Doesn’t he prefer to be defied so he can go on killing and killing—since all these people are just vermin and the more of them that die the better? All are, in the last analysis, responsible for Jim’s death; their words, their thoughts, the whole way of life willed it, even though they never knew he existed. [40]

What truly makes George an outsider is not his failing to connect with his daily life (even though he is man of taste surrounded by tasteless people) but his homosexuality. Not for once does the novel ever make an overt reference to homosexuality, except for the ubiquitous undercurrent that is sheerly responsible for that ominous momentum of the book. A gay living in a heterosexual world is best thought of someone in a minority group who looks, acts, and thinks differently from the majority and has faults that the majority does not have. Minority is expected expected to behave within the range of normality defined by the majority.

George’s only hope for a full communion with another person (since he has to find another Jim) is the chance meeting of a student of his, Kenny Potter, at a beachside bar. Their flirtatious but thought-provoking conversation culminates in an ocean skinny-dip and a visit to George’s place. The vast blackness of sea is like the darkness of fear that has imprisoned George, but is receiving him in such stunning baptism, giving him a refreshing new self. The 19-year-old is helping him get out of a cage (he has commented on his being cagey).

As for George, these waves are much too big for him. They seem truly tremendous, towering up, blackness unrolling itself out of blackness . . . Giving himself to it utterly, he washes away thought; speech, mood, desire, whole selves, entire lifetimes; again and again he returns becoming always cleaner, freer, less. [162]

Isherwood captures the quirkiness of someone who faces multiple mid-life crises. George is sudden, wry, and humorous. The novel is a very sad but authentic vision of someone who experiences a relentless reduction.

186 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

A Single Man: The Film

Sometimes, awful things have their own kind of beauty. ~George Falconer

Adopted from Christopher Isherwood’s novel with the same title, A Single Man is a compelling story of life and death. Colin Firth soars in the portrayal of the title character, George Falconer, who is a Briton transplanted in Los Angeles, where he teaches English at a small college. The 52-year-old professor is mourning the death of his lover of 16 years for several months. Jim’s death has sent him to depression that turns into a mission to end his life.

A Single Man follows Falconer, who maintains a chilly distance from people, on one day as he wakes up from a nightmarish reprise of his lover’s death, gets ready for another school day, retrieves valuable items from his deposit box, and purchases bullets for the gun with which he will finish his life. In class during the discussion of Aldous Huxley, Falconer spins off the tangent and talks about fear that has imprisoned lives. Approached by a student who has a crush on him, Falconer denies his being cagey: there are just issues one cannot fully address with a public ease because you belong to a minority. A minority that which the majority feels threatened by.

Throughout the 99 minutes of the film, A Single Man offers no extraneous detail. Nothing in the set (which you have to pay very close attention to) is random especially the photo of Jim, the neatly laid-out suit, the ticking-away clock and the gramophone. Every person he encounters seems to reassure himself who he is as the film takes on the momentum and narrative of a thriller, which is drastically different from the reading novel. A chronic drunk, Charlotte (Juliann Moore) was his ex to whom he reinstates that after all the years his relationship with Jim has never been a substitute of love, that is, heterosexual love. Most importantly, and amen to Tom Ford and Christopher Isherwood—love does not limit to straight people because love is a human right. As much as Falconer has led a lonely life with a sense of vulnerability, the film progresses to attain a hopeful, and sometimes humorous, sense of what it means to be alive. The one lingering feeling while watching this film is an irresistible lurch in my stomach,, a pencillike scratch of panic, but in a positive away, that something tragic is bound to take place when you least expect. The richness of details and nuances begs a second, or even a third, viewing.

99 mins. R. Directed by Tom Ford. [Theater/Rental]