If George (Colin Firth) and his lover Jim (Matthew Goode) - in Tom Ford’s artful, dream-like film - had been living in Southern California in 2007 rather than 1961, they could have got married. Today, with the passing of Proposition 8 by the Californian Supreme Court - the day after President Obama’s election - as it was reaffirmed that only those with vaginas can wed the posessors of penises, it is now no longer possible.
I mention this as the film’s emotional kick occurs when George and his long term friend and fellow Brit ex-pat, Charley (Julianne Moore) fall giddy and flirtatious onto her shag-piled floor. ‘Don’t you ever miss this?... Having a real relationship and kids?’ asks Charley. George, appalled, replies, ‘I had Jim’. ‘I mean a real relationship,’ insists Charley, drunkenly pouring acid on those freshly tossed rocks. Hardly a surprise then that George feels suicidal. If only he and Jim could have married, Charley might have understood. Afterall it would have been his husband who had died in the car crash after sixteen happy years together. Who’d have imagined fashion designer and fragrance man Mr Ford would be making such a topical political point in his first ever movie?
Of course it’s much easier to watch this film in a state of wide-eyed stupor than as a piece of hot political polemic. Try and name a more languorous, seductive and richly detailed film? Ford borrows visual motifs from Blue Velvet-era David Lynch – George’s slo-mo car shot driving past his neighbour’s daughter hopping on the sidewalk; the film stock flipping between grainy and sharp and the dizzying shifts between sepia to rich colour. With this his first feature Ford is a kid in a sweet shop with all this technical wizardry at his finger tips. Gee, I wonder what this button does? he’s asking. All the while Abel Korzeniowski’s hypnotic score soars around us like a turbulant sea in a dream occasionally drowned out by a pounding heart.
George and Jim had been living in Edenic bliss before Jim’s untimely car accident. As if to underline their love and George’s overwhelming grief, two sensationally beautiful young men, Kenny (Nichoas Hoult), a student at George’s college where he teaches English, and Carlos (Jon Kortajarena) a lean street hustler, in turn attempt to seduce him. It’s tough work being the hero of a Tom Ford movie, obviously. Yet George is like a vegetarian at a spit roast. His heart just isn’t in it. What’s left of it.
Not surprisingly George and Charley’s homes are peans to mid-century modern Californian luxury. Is that Slim Aarons taking pitctures next door? But more than this their surfaces, vases and wooden panelling are caressed by a sweeping camera making them worthy for our veneration. How we’d all love to possess the keys to George’s glass and dark wood house with its impeccable lineage - it was designed by John Lautner, Frank Lloyd Wright's pupil. But, of course.
Yet the loss at the heart of this seductive film played out with compelling conviction by Firth, give it a surprising weight. All played out in a house to die for.