“No one has really heard my side of the story, the adventure we had together, the transformation I had going from a schoolgirl to a woman overnight.” - Priscilla Presley
What is it about celebrities that we as a society find so fascinating? Is it the fame? The wealth? Or is it something a little more… uncouth? It’s hard to believe people when they claim support for an actor or musician they profess admiration for only to turn on a dime when even the faintest hint of an accusation becomes public. Or maybe it’s not an accusation but a story of marital issues. We seem to root for their downfall. It’s like a community of jealous onlookers watching a NASCAR race hoping for a gnarly car crash. We were raised on reality television and it shows in the ways we view fame and fortune.
Elvis Presley was in many ways the first true rock star. While many musicians followed a path laid before them, pitfalls marked and warned of along the way he incurred it all with a total kind of blindness and naivety. In fact much of his story has become cliché rock star legend that so many seem to have ignored only to find themselves in similar situations of promiscuity, drug abuse, financial ruin and an ignominious end to either their careers or their very lives. Elvis died addicted and lost within the confines of drugs and financial theft by someone who he once thought would do anything to protect him. His story is one of warning and tragedy all in the face of unchecked fame (infamy?) and success.
In the midst of his most chaotic moments as a younger man he always had his parents to turn to for support, particularly his mother who he cherished. It was of course devastating to him when she died and left him to essentially find his way without the safety net that parents often are. It was a year later, still riddled with sadness, that he encountered a young lady in Germany where he was stationed in the military. Her name was Priscilla.
It’s nice to speak of their love as this romantic, flawed flame fueled by passion and a lavish lifestyle but it’s undeniably an inaccurate and incomplete perspective of what was in truth a complicated, at times emotionally abusive union. First and foremost the story of Priscilla cannot be told without inclusion of the man himself sunk into nearly every facet of her whirlwind existence. It’s hard to feel the romance of their life together when its grainy details come to light. In the early days of their beginning together she was only fourteen years old while he was ten years her senior. While he maintained that he was respectful of her young age, it rarely feels like anything but messy and perhaps even creepy. Even if he kept his distance he still had eyes for a girl barely into her teen years and he was in the military. She was studying for her next math test as he was training as a driver in a tank company. Still, despite the oddity of such a relationship their unique kind of love would grow and become almost as legendary as the man himself.
So much of the spotlight has focused primarily on Elvis and justifiably so. He was the rock star after all. He was front and center of the cameras and eyes of the world as he danced and sang his way to his eventual demise. Along the way, by his side when he permitted it, was Priscilla who in many ways was living her own story who was certainly influenced by her husband but was unquestionably living a separate kind of life steeped in loneliness and apprehension. She would have the mansion, often museum-like in its coldness and emptiness. She would have the wealth, used only to buy the dresses he liked and approved of or the makeup he preferred. She would be the envy of so many as they realized very little of her otherwise barren, isolated life where she was treated as more of a prop which he owned rather than a partner that he loved. While he may have loved her he had an often misguided way of showing it. He possessed her when she so desperately wanted to simply be cherished, like his own mother.
Priscilla is about her perspective of Elvis. They had a unique and convoluted relationship that was every bit as complex as any normal marriage but with the added complications of fame and excess. Every slip in the public eye made an otherwise simple marital issue into a story of irreparable and exaggerated complications. So much of her life with him… wasn’t. By that I mean they may have been married but between his movies, tours and extracurricular activities she saw very little of him. This is when her loneliness showed through the most. It was undeniable. Unfortunately for her the loneliness didn’t leave her when he returned but rather it mutated from something she felt alone on the couch or the dinner table to something she felt hiding in their bathroom because he said something offensive or insensitive. I really believe he loved her but was never shown how to love her. I think he adored her but also saw her as something he could collect and put away simply because he was Elvis and he could have whatever he wanted. Elvis achieved a level of fame and success that gave him a life of rarely being told no. It’s not right how he treated her much of the time but it’s not exactly surprising that he did the things he did to her and in spite of her.
Priscilla is from her perspective which means much of the time she was simply left behind. Made to sit and wait for a man many would consider to be a narcissist. It’s an honest and therefore sometimes inescapably slow story about Priscilla Presley waiting her life away with little to show for it. Meeting such a presence like Elvis at such an impressionable age never allowed her to discover who she was as an individual. I think most would agree if you are to love another, you must know who you are first. She was never given the time for such an important step in any young person’s life, especially the life of a young girl.
Priscilla is an A24 release which means that it definitely has its merits. Many I’ve spoken to that have seen the film have loved it calling it one of their favorites of the year. For my tastes Priscilla is a story I can appreciate in sections. The technical aspects of beautiful cinematography, tremendous set dressing and costumes are all professional grade and something to be admired. Her story is interesting and sad, an emotionally resonant story of loneliness and no one to turn to about it. It’s about her finding the strength to leave behind a life most would quite literally kill for and does so in hopes of finding something better. She is wonderfully portrayed by Cailee Spaeny who emits a listlessness that hides the pain of her unfulfilled existence overshadowed in nearly every way by a man who saw her as an item to possess.
But much like the Baz Luhrmann film released just last year, I never need to hear the story ever again. I have no desire to ever watch this movie a second time. While I can feel the emotional weight of it all, I found myself wondering when it was going to end. Mercifully Priscilla is much shorter, at just under two hours, than the overstuffed Elvis biopic that had me checking the time for nearly all of its two and a half hour runtime. I’ve heard enough and that’s all fine but I would like to move on now. It’s a fascinating story certainly but it’s one I’ve heard to some extent for nearly all of my life. Aside from the more intimate details I assure you that you’ve likely heard the story of Elvis and Priscilla. I think this is a story that should be seen and heard at least once but beyond that I’m checking out. If they decide to make a movie all about the Colonel I’m skipping it. Thank you for telling me the story of this beautiful woman and for baring your soul. I appreciate it but I’ll see myself out now.
Rated R For: drug use and some language
Runtime: 113 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Biography, Drama
Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Tim Post, Lynne Griffin
Directed By: Sofia Coppola
Out of 10
Story: 8/ Acting: 8/ Directing: 8/ Visuals: 6
Buy to Own: No
Check out the trailer below: