How did probably the most storied romances in American historical past produce a horrible loneliness?
In Priscilla, Sofia Coppola’s delicate, minor-key portrait of Elvis Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla Presley, there’s a fleeting shot of the King (performed by Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi) performing onstage. His again is turned to the digital camera; as he opens his arms to the gang earlier than him, he lifts his signature cape and his physique blocks out the lights.
It’s an uncommon perspective. Within the many depictions of the icon, Elvis tends to be seen the best way his followers noticed him: within the highlight, along with his artistry on full show. However Priscilla—as rendered by Coppola and embodied by Cailee Spaeny—had a special standpoint. He was a silhouette, a shadow, a person she couldn’t see clearly.
Melancholy younger girls trying to find escape are one among Coppola’s favourite topics, and Priscilla could also be her most haunting endeavor up to now. The movie, primarily based on Priscilla’s memoir, Elvis and Me, tracks its topic for a few decade of her life, from the time she met her husband-to-be, when she was a 14-year-old ninth grader, to the second she left him in her 20s. It’s a hazy take a look at Priscilla’s unusual coming-of-age, residing out a girlish fantasy whereas slowly greedy the boundaries that got here with being Elvis’s object of affection. And whereas isolation has lengthy been the thematic via line in Coppola’s movies, right here she illustrates the best way probably the most storied romances in American historical past produced a fragile, horrible loneliness.
Like a lot of Coppola’s work—consider the muted pastels of Misplaced in Translation and Marie Antoinette, or the light glow over The Beguiled and The Virgin Suicides—Priscilla appears tender to the contact, as youthful as its heroine. The movie opens with a sequence of close-ups: Priscilla’s naked ft on a pink carpet, earlier than her hand rigorously traces liquid eyeliner over her eyelids. She’s repeatedly outfitted in flimsy nightgowns, her hair finished up. Elvis’s well-known dwelling, Graceland, additionally doesn’t look gaudy; it’s lit extra like an impressionist portray, heat and shimmering. The master suite is the exception, with its darkish drapes making Priscilla look particularly luminous and fragile. She seems to be a doll, simply one other one of many many monogrammed, polished treasures discovered round the home.
However Priscilla is greater than a narrative of a younger lady in a gilded cage; it’s additionally an examination of how adolescent beliefs may be laborious to shake. To Priscilla, nothing may have been extra fascinating than being worshipped by probably the most worshipped man alive. For a youngster rising up within the Nineteen Fifties with no critical relationship expertise, being admired by Elvis, a person 10 years older than she was, felt just like the definition of romance. Hundreds of thousands of ladies would’ve killed to be Elvis’s bride, which is why she spent lengthy days idly ready for him to return dwelling, with no clue what he was doing. She couldn’t go away Graceland to get a job, however Elvis offered her with consolation and journey, taking her to Vegas, instructing her tips on how to have an excellent time, launching infantile pillow fights and taking part in dress-up in his room. Coppola meticulously constructs tableaus that present how Elvis’s adoration was, to Priscilla, virtually miraculous. Scenes with him are filled with coloration; with out him, the world turns into drab and inert.
That adjustments as Priscilla emerges from her teenagers and her perspective regularly shifts. She doesn’t have a sudden awakening, and her progress doesn’t yield a completely shaped sense of self—solely an understanding of the chance that she will exist aside from her husband. Scenes within the movie’s second half echo earlier ones: When she finds proof of an affair, she voices her frustration, fairly than silently fretting over his loyalty. When he proselytizes to her about spiritualism, she doesn’t pay attention as intently as she used to. Priscilla avoids the extra dramatic lore in regards to the couple that Priscilla, an government producer on the movie, included in her memoir, comparable to her personal affairs. As a substitute, the film produces a hypnotic impact with its contrasting sequences and misty montages. By the point it reaches the late ’60s, you are feeling very like Priscilla herself, questioning the place the years went.
In its final stretch, Priscilla falters considerably because it rushes towards Priscilla making her selection to depart Elvis. However Coppola’s textured course and Spaeny’s measured efficiency lend the conclusion a poignant weight that anchors the speedy developments. In a standard biopic, Priscilla’s exit would in all probability really feel triumphant; right here, it’s considerably troubling, even chilly, arriving at a degree when it appears unnatural for a movie to finish. But that feels truthful for a girl approaching a future wherein she should attempt to relinquish her teenage fantasy. Elvis and Priscilla’s love story is one thing of a tragedy, the movie appears to recommend. Being Elvis’s muse was a dream—and an extended shadow that Priscilla must reckon with for the remainder of her life.