Saturday, April 13, 2013

Am I sad? Am I happy?

A Single Man.  The words beautiful, amazing, and spectacular do not even do it justice.  From Colin Firth’s brilliant portrayal of George Falconer, to the stunning visual art and filmography of director Tom Ford, it seems almost impossible to leave this movie untouched.  However, the feeling that the spectator is supposed to leave with is impossible to nail down.  Carl Platinga’s focus on the experience of emotion while watching a film rather than any emotion in particular in his essay “Spectator Emotion and Ideological Film Criticism” is essential to viewing A Single Man.
As he discusses in his essay, Platinga recognizes that part of watching a film is that, “we rarely view films indiscriminately, but decide what films to view in part for the kind of experience they offer” (154).  This means that although some of emotional power of a movie is in part left up to the brilliance of the actors and execution of the director, as viewers we make a conscious decision to see a happy, funny, sad, violent, or action-packed movie.  Much like we have mentioned in class, advertisements play a roll in influencing our feelings toward movies and TV shows.  For instance, we talked about the opening scene of Dexter and how it seems violent, evil, and mysterious.  We also mentioned that the preview for Doubt made the film seem so much more controversial in order to draw a crowd.
I am assuming that most people who went to see A Single Man or decided to watch the film knew what they were getting themselves into.  Not knowing anything about the movie other than its title, I came in with an entirely different perspective.  I assumed it was either a happy love story or a sad love story, or in the words of Platinga, does the movie offer a self-indulgent sentimentality or does it escape the criticisms of sentiment and emotion (155-156).  To tell the truth, I have no idea where this movie is on the spectrum of emotions for me.  Yes of course the movie does play on sentiments and emotions and has many depressingly sad moments.  Nevertheless, the film has many bright, happy, funny, and love-filled scenes.  I think generally people walk out of the theater or end the movie in tears.  The movie itself, however, cannot tell you how to feel about this movie.
Platinga mentions that people often feel certain emotions during a movie based on how or why they do or do not relate to a character or situation (153).  This relationship with the film does vary throughout the course of the movie and it can often serve as the sort of catharsis or learning moment in a movie.  A Single Man does not offer one true perspective or emotion to learn from in this movie.  People of all different backgrounds and situations can connect with so many parts of this movie. For instance, fear of old age, homosexual/bisexual relationships, relationships in general, fear of moving on, love, fear of death… the list goes on and on.  These are all emotions and situations that people can understand, grasp, and feel.
What I am trying to get at is that this movie offers too many different connections and complications to demand one emotion.  The experience of emotion is left up the discretion of the viewer.  I recall one scene where George Falconer and Charley (played by Julianne Moore) have dinner and discuss how kids call them old even though they really are not that old and yet at the same time realize that they have old memories and do not have that much time left to change their lives or situation.  If I were a middle-aged parent (more specifically divorced or widowed), then this particular scene would probably strike pretty close to home.  However, as a young adult, I can only see the emotions of the actors and sympathize with how those characters are feeling.
Focusing on the experience of emotion allows us to step away from criticisms of crying or laughing at inappropriate times.  Platinga relies on the thinking of Bertolt Brecht to discuss this when he says, “that the goal of the practitioner of epic theatre must not be to eliminate emotional response but to encourage the spectator to ‘adopt a critical approach to his emotions, just as [he] does to his ideas’” (149).  I am definitely sympathetic to those of you who may have cried during or at the end of this movie, but I think this film involves a little more digging like Brecht and Platigna argue.  It is, naturally, sad that George Falconer dies at the end of the movie but is that really enough to make it sad?  To some, I am sure the answer is yes.  In my opinion, the answer is too complicated to simply say it is a sad movie or it is a happy movie.  That being said, we need to focus on the experience of emotion during the movie in order to establish a forum on which we can determine whether A Single Man is a sad or happy love story.  


  1. I think it is interesting to specifically mention the ties the character can have to the spectator. It almost seems throughout the film that we connect with George because he is almost modern and progressive thinking, yet living in the 1960's. I think his being out of place makes the film sad, yet we watch it in a more progressive time, feeling sorry for George and only wishing that he had existed in present day, perhaps not leading to his death but perhaps to him freeing himself. This film is beautifully shot, I agree, giving it a dreamlike feel which I feel really adds to the mysteriousness of the messages and tone it is trying to convey.

  2. This movie seems particularly relevant to Platinga's argument that emotions are the rational filtering of feelings. George has experienced extreme happiness and extreme sadness, but when we meet him, it is not as if his feelings have clouded his thinking. He is no longer happy nor sad, but hopeless. George has channeled his emotions into apathy. There is no longer in any need for him to go on living. He has neatly and completely arranged his death. George is handling his emotions rationally, just as Platinga says moviegoers must. That George is experiencing intense emotion through rationality suggests that he is just as distanced from his feelings as the audience is.
    At the end of the movie, George has chosen to continue living; he has rediscovered his feelings and thus his life. But, of course, in the end he dies unexpectedly. This appears as if it is a great tragedy, but I think it is Tom Ford's way of showing us that the essence of humanity is pure and unexpected feeling. Had George gone through with his suicide, his death would have been of no significance, but the unpredictability of his heart attack parallels George's rediscovery of the uncontrollable power of human feeling.


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