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Elegy
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Isabel Coixet

Written By:
Nicholas Meyer, Philip Roth

Cast:
Sonja Bennett, Patricia Clarkson, Penelope Cruz, Antonio Cupo, Michelle Harrison, Deborah Harry, Dennis Hopper, Chelah Horsdal, Alessandro Juliani, Ben Kingsley, Laura Mennell, Kris Pope, Peter Sarsgaard, Ryan McDonell, Marci T. House, Shaker Paleja, Shaker Paleja

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Elegy (2008)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
August 10th, 2008

'Elegy' is an adaptation of Philip Roth's novel The Dying Animal, which is a sad reflection on how a person's self-imposed barriers can sabotage his or her efforts to find true happiness. Ben Kingsley gives a masterful performance, possibly his best since House of Sand and Fog, as David Kepesh, a college professor who has earned a reputation for sleeping with his female students, most of whom are young enough to be his grandchildren. These affairs are nothing more than one-night stands; he is not concerned with having a real relationship, until he meets his latest conquest, the beautiful and exotic Consuela Collins (Penelope Cruz), the daughter of Cuban immigrants. His feelings for her are different, and could actually be construed as genuine love, but he becomes obsessed by their age difference, and is encouraged by his friend George (Dennis Hopper) to end the fling before it develops into something more serious. But it has already reached that level. David is a deeply flawed man who is not exactly easy to like. He has a long-time mistress, Carolyn, (Patricia Clarkson) whom he has repeatedly lied to about his fidelity. He has a son, Kenneth (Peter Sarsgaard), whom he once abandoned, and may now seek to make amends with.

He continues seeing Carolyn while still involved with Consuela, and develops a fetish with Consuela's sensuous nude body, which Cruz displays with little inhibition. He lusts after her, regards her with jealousy, almost like a personal possession, but his refusal to make a commitment is bound to drive her away; George reinforces the lingering idea that Consuela will leave David for someone younger and more handsome than himself, and this thought haunts him, he does not want to meet her family, since they would undoubtedly notice how much older he is, and insist that he is not right for her. His insecurities endanger the future they may have had together. David does not want to be humiliated or hurt; is convinced that Consuela will break his heart by dumping him, and seeks to avoid this dilemma by dumping her first. He is also not terribly receptive to criticism, though he teaches a course on cultural criticism.

David is controlling, authoritative, and emotionally distant, but shows a capacity for change, but approaches the concept of transformation with reluctance and trepidation. He has encountered something late in his life that is new and frightening for him, something he could not have anticipated. Roth, and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, espouse, through David, an almost philosophical understanding of the aging process, how one could approach the concept of being old as getting closer and closer to death, and how this perspective might hinder one's ability to enjoy the rest of one's natural life. There is much that is communicated non-verbally, through David's intense face, his penetrating glances and stares, through physical gestures, in addition to the dialogue, much of it taken directly from the source material. Close-ups are used to great effect. This is Cruz's best role in some time; she is a bold and provocative presence. Hopper and Clarkson are terrific. The film is dark, moving, and meditative, but the deliberately slow pacing is bound to alienate potential viewers, who will find the whole experience drab and boring.

This is a rich, adult-oriented drama that tackles relatively universal themes, ones that Meyer explored previously in The Human Stain, with Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman. By focusing so much on David, the other characters are not developed as thoroughly as they might have been, which is a disservice to the stellar supporting cast. Also, Kenneth is a sort of obnoxious distraction; he enters the plot to confess to David that he is guilty of adultery; he has not fully forgiven David for his past neglect, but still turns to him for advice and consolation in the midst of this crisis. Yes, Kenneth is married with children, and the implications are that he will head down the same path as his father, but little is done with this narrative thread, and it is quickly forgotten. In the end, however, it is all about Kingsley.

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