Sony // 2008 // 112 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // March 17th, 2009
"Stop worrying about growing old and think about growing up."
Elegy (noun): A poem or song of mourning.
David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast) is an author, literature professor, and the host of cultural NPR show -- in short, a minor New York celebrity. He's in his early sixties, divorced, estranged from his son (Peter Sarsgaard, Shattered Glass), and carries on with long ago former student (Patricia Clarkson, The Pledge) who drops by for sex every few weeks. Every year David throws a cocktail party for his class (after the final marks are in, of course) in the hopes of bedding a female student. This time Kepesh sets his sights on Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz, Vanilla Sky).
Elegy is an adaptation of the short novel, "The Dying Animal," by Philip Roth (The Human Stain). The book is a monologue by Kepesh, recalling his relationship with Consuela to an unknown listener. The book presents Kepesh as an angry and unpleasant man, who on a few occasions offers his audience graphic descriptions of his sexual encounters. It's an intense, if not entirely satisfying, story. Luckily, the film spares us the pornographic details and tones down Kepesh's misogyny.
Elegy, like its source material, is a story about a certain type of man at a certain point in his life. A man who was married, but felt it was prison, ran away, and promised himself never to do it again. He has led a hedonistic lifestyle ever since. Now the man has reached an age where he realizes that his time on earth is reaching its end. However, he still chases women much younger than he is, so they can have no strings attached sex. This is no mid-life crisis, nor is he trying to escape reality. Kepesh is fully aware of the age gap. He sees it as an advantage because he believes the age difference ensures that a meaningful relationship is impossible: The girl will eventually gravitate towards a younger man, leaving Kepesh free to move on to his next conquest. Or is it victim?
Kepesh seduces Consuela with his usual game plan in mind, but the unexpected happens: He falls for her. Hard. Suddenly the circumstances that previously made him feel free turn into an unbearable prison. He becomes paranoid that Consuela will leave him for a younger man, if she already isn't seeing one behind his back. Isn't that what he wants? What's going on? Kepesh's life loses balance and he desperately tries to regain his footing, but can't. He displays jealousy and possessiveness, knowing that it will doom the relationship. And this is where Elegy missteps.
The problem is that the story is unoriginal. Worse still, this exhibition of male insecurity in a May-December romance offers no new insights or intriguing wrinkles. Instead, there's some over-the-top symbolism, an unimaginative twist, a ridiculous request, and an abrupt and poorly executed resolution. Also, Kepesh's ultimate transformation lacks credibility; for those who have read the book this means that its ambiguous conclusion was jettisoned.
Further, while curiosity is a plausible explanation for the initial attraction of Consuela to Kepesh, no effort is made to justify why she stays with him for so long, especially given his (initial) purely superficial attraction to her; he offers nothing except admiration of her physical attributes.
Technically, the release is devoid of problems. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is clean and detailed. Shadows and dim lighting underscore the gloom overhanging the action. The 5.1 surround sound is clear.
The extras are minimal. There is a commentary by screenwriter Nicholas Meyer, covering the challenges of adapting a novel for the screen, interpreting art, the themes of the film, and differences between the script and the final film. It's informative, but delivered in a very measured, soporific manner. A short, unremarkable featurette, "The Poetry of Elegy," with comments from the cast and director Isabel Coixet (The Secret Life Of Words) is also included.
Despite its flaws, I surprisingly never lost interest in the film because the performances are so excellent. Kingsley is by turns slimy, confident, jealous, callous, and vulnerable as Kepesh. Cruz pulls off a very impressive portrayal of a woman turned inside-out by a selfish and insecure partner. It's difficult not to sympathize with her character's plight. The supporting cast of Clarkson, Sarsgaard, and Dennis Hopper (Speed) as Kepesh's best friend, George, are also strong in their roles which, to benefit of the film, have been expanded from that in the book.
Elegy is a mature film about adult relationships and the male psyche. However, the story is clichéd and the ending rings false, but the pacing is good and the acting outstanding. It's worth renting, if you're in the mood for such a thing.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Wikipedia: Philip Roth
* Wikipedia: The Dying Animal