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August 13, 2008

Men love destruction and defeat. It’s hot-wired. They might wrap it up in some nebulous masculine phraseology like analysis or dissection or investigation, but it amounts to the same thing. It is “the temptation,” according to Billy Bragg, “to take the precious things we have apart to see how they work”. Roy Harper was more succinct when he said you can spend a lifetime worrying something won’t last.

And it doesn’t matter how smart you are; chaps, we’re all on the same scale, it’s not even grand enough to be called a spectrum. Moving away from folk rock balladeers and all the way [sic] up to highbrow literary giants like Philip Roth, we’re just men, and we’re all ultimately fated to fuck things up by being in thrall to our indecisiveness, the fear of old age, lust and jealousy.

Roth’s in there because it’s on his novel The Dying Animal, that Isabel Coixet’s new film Elegy is based. His protagonist is cultural guru, critic and sometime college lecturer David Kapesh (Ben Kingsley), a man in his 60s with a tom-catting reputation among his adoring students. Into his life breezes the utterly wonderful Conseula (Penélope Cruz), who – if he were to allow it – would turn his life into a joyous celebration of love in that Spring and Autumn way.

But, you guessed it, Kapesh can’t relax into the relationship at all. He calls it ridiculous, even though Consuela openly says that she’s happy. At his elbow is best friend George (Dennis Hopper), a similarly philandering old creative type, who enjoys the stories of Kapesh’s conquests, but urges him: “you have to leave her, she’s going to leave you sooner or later anyway.”

Kapesh enjoys the sex, of course, but he wants more, what’s the word, adoration from Consuela (even though you know that would never be enough), and whatever she says, or whichever way she responds, he can see a pinprick of doubt hidden away, ready to be worried at and unwoven and enlarged. George tells Kapesh that, “Beautiful women are invisible; we’re so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside,” which is almost right. What he means is that men cannot stop feeling that the This and Now of a relationship just can’t be enough, even when they’re told explicitly that it is.

This distrust of what’s right there in front of them leads men to distrust and further, to misogyny. “When you make love to a woman,” Kapesh says, “you get revenge for all the things that defeated you in life.” And it’s true, it’s painfully misogynistic, of course, but it’s also painfully true. Men think like this because they can’t allow themselves to think in any other way. They need a hug, and then they don’t trust the hug. The only thing they might imagine is real, is to slap it away.

When – naturally, predictably – Kapesh’s son has a break-up with his wife he asks his father’s advice and doesn’t like what he hears. “where did you get the idea that marriage is a prison?” he says. “From serving time,” replies his Dad.

Elegy is brutally honest, but it’s also touching and moving and ultimately incredibly sad. Kingsley’s Kapesh is a man saturated with sadness and just old enough to possibly start realising it. The final emotional pull is perfectly played, not with a crash of drums and orchestral crescendo, but a long slow fade, and it’s terrifically satisfying.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2008 5:06 pm

    Maybe it’s the brutal honesty I actually have a problem with! Haha. I thought the actors did splendidly, but the subject matter needles my last nerve: Thoughts?



  1. Susan Hated Literature » Blog Archive » links for 2008-08-20

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