Elegy

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Elegy Movie Poster Image
Brainy, mature, emotional film tackles sex, love.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Men view women primarily as sexual objects. Both genders play games with each other. Couples engage in meaningless sex to fend off loneliness. But one marriage endures despite challenges; in the end, it's portrayed as a safe harbor during a difficult time. The main character, who starts out as self-serving and sexist, transforms into someone made vulnerable, though happier, by love.

Violence

Some lovers' spats, as well as conflict between father and son. Nothing physical.

Sex

Fairly frequent sex scenes showing women's bare breasts and backsides, a man's bare chest, and a couple in various sexual positions. Some detailed discussions of sexual exploits, including one crass play-by-play about a boyfriend obsessed with his girlfriend's menstruation. Discussions about infidelity; one man admits to cheating on his wife, while another is seen canoodling with a much younger woman.

Language

No steady swearing, though when strong language is used, "f--k" appears to be the word of choice.

Consumerism

Logos for the Village Voice, Beck's beer, a gelato shop. Mentions of Prado, Cuantro, and Grand Marnier. Snippets from Charlie Rose (TV show).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters drink wine and other liquor fairly frequently, though no one gets drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this haunting, emotional film is best for older teens and adults. It deals with mature subjects that are hard to understand, even for grown-ups: love, fidelity, betrayal, and mortality. There's some drinking and strong language -- primarily "f--k" -- as well as partial nudity (bare breasts and backsides) and plenty of sex scenes. Men and women toy with each other in manipulative ways, and the male characters tend to regard women as sex objects. But the main character does change for the better over the course of the movie.

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What's the story?

When you are 17, you do a lot of things to feel that you are moving, says Consuela (Penelope Cruz) by way of explaining a youthful indiscretion. But as ELEGY reveals, aging professors like David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) do things like that, too. Long ago freed by divorce from a marriage he likens to prison, David has since kept company with many women, some his students. But then into his classroom walks Consuela Castillo, a Cuban woman whose "elegant austerity" endears her to him quickly, much to his surprise and horror. After all, long-term, committed relationships have never been his cup of tea. David's best friend, George (Dennis Hopper) -- perhaps the only person David is able to give to, and accept, without worry -- urges against getting involved emotionally. But his warnings are of no use: David is smitten. And the closer he and Consuela get, the more fearful he becomes of what he considers the inevitable end: That she'll one day realize she no longer wants to be with someone so much older, and she'll leave. But life, unsurprisingly, isn't that easy to predict.

Is it any good?

Melancholic and moving, Elegy -- based on a book by Philip Roth -- is a Trojan horse of the best kind: It's a deeply emotional film masquerading as an intellectual exercise. Kingsley is masterful here; his David is empathetic -- despite the fact that he's a cad who makes no apologies for his choices. To watch him grapple with foreign emotions when he finally succumbs to Consuela is to witness an unraveling so convincing that it's painful. The rest of the cast is inspired, too, especially Cruz, who turns in a variegated portrayal of a woman so willing to love but unwilling to accept less than what she expects. In fact, hardly anything is off with this movie; it's as pensive visually as it is thematically, and the pacing is exact. Even a twist near the end doesn't cheapen the film but rather enhances it, throwing David -- and the audience -- into wildly divergent (though still believable) emotional terrain.

One objection: Director Isabel Coixet spends a lot of time exploring the idea that beautiful women aren't seen because too much attention is paid to their beauty, but despite Cruz's robust rendering of Consuela -- she says so much with as little as a shrug -- the film keeps her character at arm's length, too. She's the object, and the camera's gaze is as fawning as the professor's.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the movie portrays sex. What is it saying about the role that sex plays in relationships? Parents, talk to your teens about the real-life consequences and emotional issues surrounding physical relationships. Families can also discuss why Kepesh is the way he is. How does it serve him to be emotionally distant? How does it cripple him? What roles does Consuela play in his life? Is he truly in love with her, or just the idea of her? What does this movie have in common with other films about May-December relationships? How is it different?

Movie details

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