At different times in my life I've considered pursuing a career as a college professor, but after seeing the lives illustrated on screen in 2008 by Dennis Quaid in Smart People, Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, and Ben Kingsley in Isabel Coixet's Elegy, I'm not sure if I'm up for it. What is it about teaching higher education that causes crippling depression and social anxiety?
In the case of David Kepesh (Kingsley- The Wackness, Transsiberian), it's a torturous affair with one of his students, Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona). David fears that Consuela is too young and attractive and that she'll leave him for a younger beau at any time. But feel no pity for him- he walked out on his wife and young son (Peter Sarsgaard - Rendition) years ago, and has spent two decades in bed with countless women, none so faithfully frequent as his one-time student Carolyn (Patricia Clarkson - Vicky Cristina Barcelona). In between lectures and affairs, David commiserates with his poet friend George (Dennis Hopper - Sleepwalking), himself no model of fidelity.
Who are these people in real life, and how can I avoid them in the future? It's hard enough to watch their lives crumble on screen, so I can't imagine immersing myself in Philip Roth's novel (appropriately titled "The Dying Animal") . I'm sure there are many people who find comfort in sharing the tragedies of these characters, but empathy mostly escaped me in this case, especially if it was meant to be directed at David Kepesh. In some ways, I saw Elegy as a twisted sequel to About a Boy - what would happen if Will (Hugh Grant) never learned his life lesson?
Despite the sorrow and pain, there are bright spots in Elegy. The ensemble cast, led by Kingsley and Cruz, just about bowled me over. I've not seen any other films directed by Coixet, but she certainly took advantage of the talent and experience of her actors. Additionally, I thought the cinematography matched the overall tone very well. We could observe the emotions without being forced to experience it with manipulative camera work or overbearing use of color and light. Unfortunately I can't speak positively of the editing - Elegy is about half an hour too long.
All in all, the award-worthy acting makes Elegy mostly engaging, but your reaction to it may ultimately depend on your ability to gain any hopeful insight from such a severely depressing parable.