A Single Man

Author: Tom Ford and David Scearce
Genre: Drama
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

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In 1962 Los Angeles, a gay college professor has a hard time moving past the death of his lover.


Friday, December 14, 1962. GEORGE, 52, lies naked sleeping in his bed. He’s English and looks younger than his age, thanks to a tan and time at the gym. He has a nightmare of coming upon a car wreck, where his dead lover JIM lies with a dead terrier. George gets down and kisses Jim. He’s awakened by his noisy neighbors, the Strunks. He finishes off some scotch from the night before, then gets ready for the day. He looks out a window and distinctly sees Jim, age 34, “handsome and well-built in a classical American way.” George rushes down the steps to meet him, but he’s gone. A phone rings, which prompts a flashback to 1950. George and Jim stand in the new, empty living room of this house and discuss its beauty.

The phone stops ringing. George goes to his study, then it rings again. This leads to another flashback, this time to 1961. A polite, Midwestern voice calls George, saying he’s Jim’s cousin, explaining the car accident. George is immediately horrified and grief-stricken. George rushes through the rain to visit his best friend, CHARLEY (a woman, late 40s). In the present, the phone stops ring again. He scans the variety of books on his case, pulls out one by Truman Capote and begins to write in it. The Strunks’ banging disturbs his concentration. George can see their house from his, and he watches.

JENNIFER STRUNK, 6, has just pulverized an old scale she’s pulled from the trash. MRS. STRUNK, mid-20s, chases her daughter, looking harried. Her sons, TOM (9) and CHRISTOPHER (4) dig for coins all around the lawn. MR. STRUNK, 35, a young executive, chastises Mrs. Strunk for letting the boys tear up the lawn. He looks at George’s yard and says some inflammatory, homophobic comments. He calls Mrs. Strunk a snob when she defends George.

George calls Charley, an old rummy smoking and looking like hell. They make plans to see each other tonight. Charley looks pleased — she has a reason to live. George unlocks a drawer in his office and pulls out a gun wrapped in a towel. It has no bullets. On his way to the college where he teaches, George listens to the news about the Cuban missile crisis. George gets mail from his box and a BLONDE SECRETARY tells him a student was looking for him. George asks who, but she doesn’t know. He comes very close, says her hair looks great, that he loves her perfume, then walks away. The Blonde Secretary looks at the other secretaries, baffled. Grad student KENNY sits on the quad with his girlfriend, LOIS. His eyes light up when he sees George pass. George buys some coffee and candy in the cafeteria as colleague GRANT rambles on about the need for bomb shelters. George lectures on an Aldous Huxley story and turns it into a monologue about fear of minorities, not-so-subtly implying homophobia as he eyes an effeminate student. Kenny stares with rapt attention, but he’s not the fellow George is looking at.

After class, Kenny walks with George, talking effusively about his lecture. George plays it off, but Kenny is clearly smitten. They talk about drugs, specifically mescaline, but George isn’t terribly interested. Kenny gives George a little pencial sharpener, and they discuss the symbolism of colors. George cleans his office, then calls Charley to shore up plans. After school, Kenny shows up at George’s car, asking if he’s quitting because he cleaned out his office. Kenny invites him to have a drink, but George says he has plans and leaves. George goes to the bank, has a look in a safe deposit box, sees a nude photo of Jim. George flashes back to the moment, in 1947, when the two men lay on a large smooth boulder on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. They discuss Charley; George confesses he slept with her once, and Jim wants to know why he’s with Jim now if he sleeps with women. George says he falls in love with men.

In the present, George runs into Jennifer Strunk. She innocently parrots some of the homophobic things her father said earlier. George goes to a sporting goods store to buy bullets for his gun. He goes to a liquor store and sees a woman in the parking lot with a terrier just like Jim’s. Inside, George picks up some liquor and a young hustler named CARLOS eyeballs him. He makes a series of passes, but George leaves. Carlos is a little impressed by George’s unwillingness to have a one-night stand. George goes home and listens to Maria Callas on his hi-fi, but it’s no match for a party at the Strunks. In 1961, listening to the same aria, George and Jim discuss their opposite tastes in literature, then Jim talks about how great it’d be to be a dog, because they’re free — like the time Christopher Strunk was being obnoxious and the dog peed on him. In the present, George gets all decked out and hits the road. As he passes the Strunks, George has a fantasy of urinating on Christopher. He goes to Charley’s house; she cleans up very well. She complains about her wasted life and laments the fact that she and George never got together; the drunker she gets, the more she blames George for her life. She accuses George of not letting go of Jim, then says she’s moving back to London. George tucks her into bed and, as he leaves, he thinks about meeting Jim.

In 1946, at a seaside dive bar, Jim’s a young Naval officer complaining about the heat. They share an instant connection, and George knows he’s in when a young woman hits on Jim, and Jim says he’s taken, then resumes his conversation with George. George drives home, writes a note to Charley, picks up the gun, and holds it for a moment. He sets it back down, opens the liquor cabinet, and finds it’s bare. He drives to the seaside bar where he and Jim met; it’s now pretty rundown. Kenny’s there. They have an awkward conversation, sharing their fear of the future, both deciding that the only thing the future holds is death. They go to the beach, strip down, and skinny-dip in some harsh waves. George ends up banging his head and sinking. He’s willing to just lie there and drown, but Kenny pulls him out. They walk toward the highway, but Kenny’s still nude. Horrified, George makes him dress.

They go back to George’s place, where Kenny strips down, then goes into the shower, leaving the bathroom door open. George strips, contemplates going into the bathroom, goes for his robe instead. He picks up the gun again, considers it, then sets it back down. They drink some more, and George tries to grill Kenny about Lois; Kenny says they slept together once but are just close friends. George passes out, then wakes up later, in a sudden panic. Kenny’s not in his bed — he’s sleeping on the couch, cradling George’s gun. Kenny’s disturbed a neat arrangement of notes and papers he’s set out — his will, insurance papers, house deed, and the note to Charley. George takes the gun back, locks it in the drawer, takes the letter for Charley and one other paper, and burns them. He goes back to his bedroom, goes to pour some water, but his left arm goes numb. Disbelieving, he has a heart-attack and collapses. In an unconscious state, he sees a plethora of terriers like Jim’s. Suddenly, they disappear — George is dead. The sound of waves lull us to black.


Although it has a few nice moments, like the subtly drawn parallels between George/Charley and Kenny/Lois, this script is a plodding, tedious mess. It was adapted from a novel, and it seems much more suited to that medium as nothing particularly cinematic or dramatic happens. It’s just a dull walk through the last day of one man’s life.

I have a feeling that in the novel, certain elements like the Strunks and George’s conversation with Grant have some sort of symbolic resonance; here, they don’t resonate and manage to feel tacked-on in a screenplay that’s already barely feature length. It leads me to believe that this adaptation is very faithful in terms of narrative, but the adapters missed the point. Without having read the novel, I couldn’t say with much authority, but based purely on the screenplay, it comes across like a series of disjointed scenes, followed by an abrupt and rather unearned ending. They don’t do much to make us care about George, so his death ends up feeling like a cheat.

The flashbacks also hurt the story, because George’s relationship with Jim is exceptionally uninteresting. I’d have a much easier time believing George’s inability to get over this perfect love if we never saw the man, if Kenny had the misfortune of living in this dark, heavy shadow that we never see. The real core of this story are the relationships between George and Kenny and George and Charley. We get one long scene with Charley that, despite a few on-the-nose passages, actually works fairly well. Of course, it lacks any kind of narrative resolution thanks to the script’s abrupt conclusion. Kenny has a more significant role, but it could stand to be fleshed out substantially. We get quite a lot of information about the character, but it’s never clear why George is interested in him and vice-versa.

The ponderous, moribund pacing makes this 88-page script feel like it’d have a three-hour runtime. There’s very little action, and it feels like maybe 60% of the script is just George sitting around, looking dour and thinking about Jim. This type of story doesn’t have to be light and peppy, but it doesn’t need to be leaden, either. It might give a high-quality actor a good opportunity to brood, but crafting a performance that will overcome the script’s other flaws is an uphill battle.

It will likely appeal to fans of the novel, although whether or not it will satisfy them is a big question. It might also draw in a gay or gay-friendly art-house audience, although it certainly disenfranchises the chunk of moviegoers who have issues with homophobia.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 17, 2008 3:41 PM