Plato’s Symposium is the recounting of a dinner party given in honor of Agathon, an Athenian tragic poet. The essay is told from the perspective of Applodorus, as he relates the event to an unnamed companion. When the guests are done with dinner, Phaedrus suggests that each guest make a speech to praise the god of Love. Of all the speeches, Aristophanes’ is particularly interesting. He tells the story of a time when there was not just the two sexes, but man, woman, and “the union of the two.” The gods become angered when man, woman, and the union, attack them. In trying to decide how to punish them for their actions, Zeus suggests man should continue to exist, “but [he] will cut them in two and they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to [the gods].” After doing this, Zeus realizes that each part came together again and clung to each other not wanting to let go.
This anecdote from the Symposium came to mind while I was watching A Single Man. The relationship that George and Jim had is comparable to man and his other half. Later in the speech, Aristophanes says, “and when of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy…these are the people that pass their whole lives together; yet the could not explain what they desire of one another.” The flashbacks to George and Jim’s time together, and George’s visible pain without him, define the bond described by Aristophanes.
One of the brilliant parts of the film is the way lighting played into the story. When a scene is focused on the present, during George’s suffering without Jim, the lighting of the film is dull, the color so faint it’s barely discernable from black and white. However, when the scene switches to a flashback of George and Jim’s relationship, the screen fills with warm, vivid colors. This toying with lighting is particularly interesting towards the end of the film when one of George’s students, Kenny Potter (Nicholas Hoult), walks into the bar that George is in, the same bar where George and Jim met. Earlier that day, Kenny showed a particular interest in George, noticing he was acting strange. When Kenny walks into the bar, color fills the scene. I took this change in lighting to signify George finding another person to fill his void. In the Symposium, Aristophanes mentions that once someone’s other half passes, they once again go out in search of another half, and once they find it, they cling to it. I think Kenny serves as this new half for George.
The film closes with another monologue by George in which he refers to the few times in life he’s had moments of clarity. He says it is these moments where he is able to drown out the world around him and actually feel. Yet these moments are just brief moments in time, “like everything, they fade. I’ve lived on these moments. They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it’s meant to be.” This particular moment George is referring to is when he sees Kenny asleep on his couch, clutching the gun George had intended to kill himself with. It is in that moment that George realizes committing suicide is not what is meant to be. SPOILER: George walks back into his room and as he’s about to get in bed, he has a heart attack and dies. Thus although George’s present is brightened by his relationship with Kenny, Jim is still his other half, and it is with him that he meant to be.
SIDENOTE: This was an incredible movie, and I would highly recommend it to anyone!