Societal Issues in A Single Man

As a society we are less likely to change when given a mirror image of ourselves in a text. In A Single Man directed by Tom Ford, 1960s society provides a modern audience with events and people that are not in the contemporary world, but the issues tackled within the film are still heavily prevalent within our society. The film undertakes the issues of stigma within societies, the fear of the unknown and finding happiness past grief. The cause of these problems have changed and altered throughout history and the 1960s setting allows the audience to look more objectively at the issues raised and compare these to the modern society.

It is human nature to fear the unknown as we have no comprehension or ability to predict the consequences. Within the 1960s A Single Man society, fear controls and influences the population’s actions and decisions. With the Cold War continually on people’s minds, it is no wonder the society is controlled by fear. The fear of nuclear annihilation, the fear of communism taking over the world and the fear of communism already infiltrated into American society. This fear causes selfishness within the masses and a lack of concern for anyone but themselves, “there will be no time for sentiment when the Russians fire a missile at us”. Society has changed from being united to now only worrying about their own safety and not the safety of the masses, it is all for one but not one for all. The society is so afraid of the threat of communism they have convinced themselves that there is no doubt of nuclear war, not if but when. They do not know what the consequence of war will be, so they prepare for the worst and believe this is the only option. “If the minority is somehow invisible…and the fear is much greater. That fear is why the minority is persecuted.” Fear is strongest emotion, it can cause irrational actions seem like the only option, fear will always have a direct correlation with action. Communism and the cold war is not the only ‘threat’ to society within the 1960’s social setting of the film, there is also the black civil rights movement and the increased awareness of varying sexualities. This change within the society was seen as a threat to the ‘natural’ American society. These fears were not a fear of the object itself but a fear of difference and change. Fear is an important part of human nature, it is the brain’s survival mechanism against danger and risk. When Christopher Columbus sailed across the the ocean, people were frightened he was going to sail right off the end of the earth. The unknown has always been something that has always had consequences inside the human brain, we have always been afraid of what we do not understand. That is why people are afraid of the dark, or afraid of falling, because we do not know what to expect when we reach the ground. History will always repeat itself, we can see this within our own society. The fear induced by communism is the same fear felt today prompted by terrorism. As terrorism is ideals and thoughts it can be invisible, therefore we fear what we cannot see and what we do not understand. As an audience we are able to relate the happenings within the film to our own experience and learn lessons that the character and apply these into our own lives.

Within our complex social world there are many social expectations that influence our behaviour and actions. Within societies there will always be pressure to fit and conform to society’s standards. This can cause restrictions within people’s lives because of these stigmas and expectations one is confined to be what came before them. Within the film the character of Charley is confined by the social expectation of women in the 1960s. She has done everything society expects her to be but is still unfulfilled and unhappy. She married, had kids, and had what seemed to be the perfect life, “I don’t think Richard ever loved me …. and Clay. I don’t know. You raise a child and when they are old enough they just leave.” but when this crumbled and she had a divorce and her children left, without the perfect facade she feels she lacks a role and purpose within her own life. She no longer has the stereotypical housewife facade she once had. The expectations society implanted in Charley’s life as what was the right thing to do to have a happy life and be content with that life, crumbled and she no longer had the life she deserved for following these expectations. Within a mid close up shot the audience is able to see Charley trapped within her life and the societies expectations, Charley is surrounded by darkness exhibits the entrapment within her life. The door closing her inside her home displays that she is trapped within her life and her home but she is no longer has her husband and child to portray her perfect facade. Charley is confined by the limits of her society and the role she must play because of her gender. As she is female she is not able to aim for higher than the perfect housewife role the society limits her to play. As females in today’s society the expectations and stigmas are still issues but are less present within society. For women especially we are still subject to rules we must follow, there is still the stigma to get married and have children but we have more opportunities than the 1960s society portrayed within the film. Stigmas or stereotypes within societies do not allow people to be themselves but rather they are to follow to underhand rules and regulation accordingly to one aspect of their appearance or personality. As this film portrays the 1960s society as a modern audience we are able to harshly judge the actions and aspects of that society better than if it portrayed a contemporary world. This is because when looking at text from a contemporary world the audience is more likely to justify the issues and actions taken by certain characters, whereas with a past world we can conclude opinions without regret or apology.

Sometimes a loss or tragedy can bring a new lease and perspective on life, this can be seen in the character of George who has just lost his long time partner. George wallows in his grief and as he is overcome with misery he decides to commit suicide at the end of the day. Throughout the day the color is almost monochromatic portraying his lack of happiness and ‘colour’ he feels throughout his life after Jim’s death. But as the day continues George finds moments within his life that are worth living for. In these moments the saturation of color is high, these show his moments of happiness and clarity within life. By the end of the film he realizes that life is about these moments and they are important enough to life for. This idea of finding happiness can again be seen in the drowning motif throughout the film. Within the opening scene the audience is shown a blue filtered cut of George drowning, but he is not fighting to stay above the surface instead he is rather letting himself sink down to the bottom. This is a symbol for George’s life, he is drowning within his emotions and his loneliness. The lifelessness of his movements show he is no longer trying to be happy or fight back against these negative emotions but rather is letting himself sink into his depression, as he feels there is no way to escape. Whereas at the end of the film we are again seen a matching cut, but instead in this cut George is fighting against the water and reaching the surface, this cut also is red filtered. This is a metaphor for George pushing through his grief and depression to emerge to the other side, into happiness. The red shows the change in conception of life, he is no longer covered in the ‘blue’ misery and sadness, but is instead now covered in the ‘red’ happiness and bliss that life can bring. This portrays his transition into a better happier life, not forgetting Jim or the emotion associated with him but rather moving forward and finding acceptance within himself and the world around him. Everyone at some point in their life goes through the loss of a friend or family member, as a result of his everyone can take lesson from George and apply these to their own life. Although George is not a character represented in our own contemporary world, the emotions he goes through are the same as we, as humans, go through today. This is an advantage to him being in the modern world, as it shows the audience the emotions we go through today are the same as people before us and will be the same for people after us.

Humanity and emotion are the root of all issues, but the seed for all solutions. Within A Single Man directed by Tom Ford, we as a contemporary audience are able to see the extent history not only evolves but repeats itself that would be missing from a text set in the modern world. This text shows us that we are little different from those who came before us and we will be little different from those who come after us. It also shows the power emotion and a need for acceptance and the effect this has on our own actions and reactions. As a modern audience we are able to compare and contrast our own society to the 1960s portrayed within the film.