For much of Sofia Coppola’s new film, “Priscilla,” there is a sense of an emotionally immature man using a young woman as a plaything. However, the beauty of this film is that it reveals that the woman in this relationship, Priscilla Presley, is not a passive victim, but rather a self-possessed individual who undergoes a transformative journey of self-discovery.
Based on Priscilla Presley’s memoir, “Elvis and Me,” the film delves into the complexities of her relationship with Elvis Presley. While there are limitations in terms of their age difference – they met when Priscilla was just 14 and Elvis was 24 – the film does not shy away from exploring this aspect. Instead, it focuses on Priscilla’s emotional growth and her ability to assert herself within the confines of their relationship.
Director Sofia Coppola is known for her intimate portrayals of young women, and “Priscilla” is no exception. Drawing inspiration from her own thematic interests and signature style, Coppola crafts a dreamlike world that captures the essence of Priscilla’s experiences. The film’s title sequence, with its meticulous attention to detail and evocative imagery, sets the stage for the story that unfolds.
At the beginning of the film, we see a young Priscilla, played by Cailee Spaeny, experiencing a whirlwind romance with Elvis, played by Jacob Elordi. As she is whisked away from her mundane life as an Army brat in West Germany to become the girlfriend of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, there is a palpable sense of excitement and giddy anticipation. However, as the film progresses, Priscilla begins to realize the oppressive nature of their relationship.
Elvis is depicted as a sexually dysfunctional individual who is unable to fully engage with Priscilla on an equal footing. He keeps her at arm’s length, using his sadness over his mother’s death and his longing for home as a means of manipulation. Despite her best efforts to instigate a sexual relationship, Elvis continuously puts the brakes on, insisting that he will decide when the time is right. Priscilla, on the other hand, is portrayed as a young woman yearning for independence and recognition of her own desires.
As Priscilla’s relationship with Elvis deepens, she becomes increasingly isolated and controlled. She is constantly under scrutiny, both from Elvis’ father and from the public who view her as a symbol of their idol’s unattainable love. This aspect of the film resonates even more in our current era of social media and paparazzi culture, where celebrities are constantly under scrutiny. Priscilla’s confinement at Graceland and her struggles to assert her own identity highlight the toll that fame and privilege can take on an individual.
Cailee Spaeny delivers a nuanced performance, capturing both Priscilla’s naivety and her growing disillusionment. Her portrayal of a woman trapped in a fairy tale gone wrong evokes empathy and showcases her emotional range. Jacob Elordi, meanwhile, brings a sense of charisma and vulnerability to his portrayal of Elvis, balancing the character’s charm with his flaws and insecurities.
In a departure from convention, the film avoids the clichéd epiphany scene where the protagonist delivers a grand speech about self-worth. Instead, Priscilla’s transformation is more subtle, marked by small moments of introspection and personal growth. This approach adds depth to the character and avoids the trappings of a simplistic narrative.
“Priscilla” is a testament to the collaborative efforts of Sofia Coppola and her subject, Priscilla Presley. As a director known for her focus on female experiences and the exploration of identity, Coppola is uniquely suited to tell this story. Through her keen eye for detail, evocative visuals, and nuanced storytelling, she presents a reimagining of the Elvis myth from the perspective of the woman who lived it.
At its core, “Priscilla” is a poignant and intimate exploration of a woman’s journey towards self-discovery and empowerment. While the film may appear to depict a woman without agency, it ultimately reveals that Priscilla is a woman who always had a sense of her own needs and desires. As she emerges from the intoxication of fame and romance, she embarks on a painful but transformative journey that ultimately leads her to reclaim her own identity.