I met Austin Butler years ago when he was almost a stranger to the world, but in front of a glass of Tuscan red, I told him that he would go far; now I would say to him that one day he would reach the Infinity Stone.
Baz Luhrmann, once again, brings a masterpiece to the screen, fulfilling Elvis Presley’s greatest desire: immortality.
As a young Elvis (Chaydon Jay) is kidnapped and sent into a trance by the music during the gospel mass, in a sequence that, as already said by our collaborator Lorenzo Tamburini, alone is worth an Oscar for the best editing, Austin Butler is kidnapped and sent into a trance by the spirit of Elvis, by that presence so strong and close to being his first thought when, during the 12 minutes of the standing ovation in Cannes, he turns his eyes to the sky pointing his finger upwards. Austin Butler does not play Elvis Presley, Austin Butler is Elvis Presley and gives him immortality by exhausting his body to the point of being forced into the hospital at the end of the shooting.
Barz Luhrmann captures almost five hours of footage in just over 120 minutes with intelligence and refinement, focusing more on public life than on the artist’s private life. Poetic licenses are used with class and delicacy, almost always for the viewer’s benefit. The special in which Elvis Presley sang for the first time “If I Can Dream” was recorded around June 25 while the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy took place on June 6. To make it clear, especially to young people or to those who, like me, are not familiar with Elvis Presley, how much the death of Martin Luther King (which occurred in April of the same year) before and that of Robert F. Kennedy then, have hit the heart of Elvis, bringing it to life to the lyrics of “If I Can Dream”, Lurhmann decided to make the two moments coincide temporally (the recording and the assassination of Kennedy) giving a deeper meaning to that extraordinary interpretation. I believe, however, that the pinnacle of refinement has been reached in the scene where Priscilla and Elvis meet in the car before saying goodbye; a meeting that, in reality, never happened. In the film, Priscilla and Elvis, long separated, talk in his car. Elvis confesses to Priscilla that he has remained without dreams (letting guess now that he has lost her too) and that, with his 40 approaching, he is terrified of being forgotten; having never been able to do something noteworthy that was destined to be remembered. Getting out of the car, Elvis looks at Priscilla as she walks away and whispers, “I will always love you” before boarding the plane. Austin/Elvis climbs the steps of the ladder as if he was slowly heading toward heaven, and then disappears permanently, even from the screen; while the voice-over that accompanies him towards eternity, tells of a bird that cannot stop flying because it is destined to die at the moment it touches the ground. Baz Lurhmann uses for this sequence the clothes that, in reality, Priscilla and Elvis wore the day they formalized their divorce in court. Once the paperwork was done, when Priscilla passed by Elvis to leave, he sang, whispering in her ear, “I will always love you”, a song recorded that same year by Dolly Parton (made immortal by Whitney Houston in Bodyguard in 1992).
Maybe the Oscar to Austin Butler, loudly requested by Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley too, will not come, because we know well that the Academy every now and then…, well, let’s say that get the wrong end of the stick; but you want to put the satisfaction of Lurhmann and Butler in seeing, in the eyes of the audience at the premiere, the unawareness that, with a delicate master’s brushstroke, during his interpretation of Unchained Melody, at one point, Austin Butler was replaced by the live recording in Las Vegas of Elvis Presley?