"When you make love to a woman you get revenge for all the things that defeated you in life." --David Kapesh (Ben Kingsley)
You don't hear too much praise of Sir Ben Kingsley these days, perhaps because he stars in too many movies or perhaps because he starred in a movie in which he makes out with an Olsen twin (The Wackness...not exactly the title you'd expect from a Ben Kingsley film). But he's very good in Elegy, an adaptation of a Philip Roth novella called The Dying Animal, which I haven't read, although my understanding is that, like most of Roth, it's energetic and outrageously vulgar. Elegy has a more sedate tone, befitting its new title, and a female director, perhaps itself a bit unusual for a Roth adaptation (like Updike, Roth is not exactly known for his sensitive views of women). Kingsley plays David Kapesh, an aging professor whose new book praises unchecked sexuality in opposition to societal "rules": his marriage has failed long ago and the implication is that he's banged his way through a lot of ex-students and finally drifted into an affair with a businesswoman (Patricia Clarkson), one which they like to believe is based strictly on sex. But the film is about him unexpectedly falling in love again, with a grad student named Consuela (Penelope Cruz, her second excellent performance of 2008 which no one saw, despite the Oscar for the other one). Kapesh finds himself falling prey to the entanglements he seeks to avoid, becoming very jealous, very childlike in his affection. The film seems to suggest there's a strong infantilizing tendency in a certain kind of male affection (note the scene where Kapesh, heartbroken, is tended to by his colleague, a poet played by Dennis Hopper). The film is strongly acted, worth a look, but it doesn't exactly succeed as either a love story or as one of the recent spate of "reawakening of a stodgy old professor" stories. It's better than Knowing. But not as funny.