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The 36 Dramatic Situations: A Single Man (2009) and All Sacrificed for Passion

By  · Published on August 20th, 2010

This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by examining a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, then go buy a suit from Tom Ford’s Fall line to cheer yourself up.

Part 12 of the 36-part series takes a look at “All Sacrificed for Passion” with fashion designer Tom Ford’s feature directorial debut A Single Man.

The Synopsis

Based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel that he was inspired to write when thinking of what life would be like without his partner, A Single Man follows a single day in the life of university professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) who lost his longtime partner Jim (Matthew Goode) in a car accident. Falconer struggles to gain meaning in his life as he encounters the few interesting people around him, all the while meticulously planning his impending and extensively deliberated-upon suicide.

The Situation

“All Sacrificed for Passion” is a situation whose classical roots are probably most evident in Shakespearean theater-like Romeo and Juliet. This situation typically involves “The Lover,” “The Object of Final Passion” (usually the same as the lover), and “The Person or Thing Sacrificed.” In the Shakespearean example and in its filmic equivalents, The Lover transforms into The Object of Final Passion through a tragedy often involving death, and the rest of the narrative that proceeds involves the way in which the living remaining member of that relationship deals with that loss. Knowing that they will no longer achieve the same fulfillment they possessed with The Lover, they take action that seals some sort of tragic fate. (The passion for The Lover here can also be substituted for an obsession with someone with whom the protagonist doesn’t have an active romantic relationship, like in Taxi Driver).

The Film

While certainly not a radically original take on the conceit, A Single Man is unique in the implementation of its situation because of the social and historical setting of its story: Los Angeles, 1962. While Falconer certainly can’t be said to be hiding firmly in the closet in this film (he’s comfortable in his sexuality with Jim and other select friends while never aggressively seeking to pass as straight in any aspect of his public professional life), he is mandated by the society of this time to remain rather invisible about his sexuality in most situations. Thus, his relationship with Jim is excluded to mostly private moments: reading together on a loveseat in the exclusivity of home, or sharing life stories on an empty beach. When Jim dies, the limitations of their relationship outside the secret privacy of their home becomes clear as Falconer isn’t even permitted to attend Jim’s wake.

Finding true love is hard enough as it is in general, much less when one is expected by a society to act in a way counter to who they are. So Falconer’s passion for Jim’s ghost that motivates him to sacrifice everything isn’t as much motivated by self-pity or even simple longing for another person as it is the inability to cope with the loss of having someone that he can comfortably be himself with (something so incredibly simple yet so rare in his life); and Jim’s absence in this respect becomes more evident the more people Falconer encounters in this single eventful day – people that, collectively or individually, fail to fulfill that need.

It’s appropriate that Tom Ford served as this film’s director, for dress and appearance serve as a major theme alongside A Single Man’s central situation, as Falconer’s suits serve as a form of armor to help him functionally cope with his loss and the requirements of the day before seeking to sacrifice all for his passion. Instead of a strict devotion to portraying accurately the film’s time period through realism, A Single Man rather gorgeously embodies Falconer’s subjectivity, taking us into his heightened sense of reality which makes manifest his sorrow at the loss of his object of passion, and giving us access to his unique perspective of the world during what he intends to be the last days of his life. How the ending functions with regard to the initial grounding of this familiar situation is up for the debate, but A Single Man is overall a stunningly beautiful and poignant film about passion, sacrifice, and lost love.

Bonus Examples: The Vanishing, Solaris, Taxi Driver

Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.

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