Elegy is a film that explores the classic older man/younger woman scenario. In Elegy, that older man is David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) and the younger woman is Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz). Consuela is one of David’s students in the criticism course he teaches at a university. Consuela is a woman from a traditional background who wants to make more of herself and has decided to obtain a college degree, which brings her to the class. After the semester is over, David makes his move on Consuela during a class get-together and they begin to see each other. The situation soon becomes serious between them.
Consuela is no dunce when it comes to the ways of men. She wants to be part of David’s life and wants him to be part of hers. She struggles for this, fights for this. What she can’t combat are David’s own insecurities about himself and their relationship. The more David examines his relationship with Consuela with his friend George O’Hearn (Dennis Hopper), the more apprehensive he becomes about it coming to light.
Consuela has the complete opposite reaction. She doesn't care about their age difference and wants the world to know they are together. In portraying this situation, Cruz gives one of the best dramatic performances I’ve seen from her, if not the best. The viewer believes her when she is sad and when she is showing emotion on her face. The same can be said for Kingsley’s David. When he finally realizes what he wants, he finds out that he can no longer have that for reasons he didn’t expect, could never have foreseen. He loses it emotionally, breaks down, and it is authentic. The viewer feels for David almost more than they do for Consuela and her piteous predicament.
Elegy is the type of film where characters examine truths about themselves and how others perceive them. Everyone is self-aware and that self-awareness breeds the conflicts in the film. It powers the characters’ story arcs and fuels some of their personal growth. This growth is not complete or whole in Elegy, it’s at its beginning; the seeds have been laid down for the eventual growth but the viewer can see their tell-tale signs — characters begin trying to do better, to be better than they have been up to this point in their lives.
Isabel Coixet’s Elegy is based on The Dying Animal by one of my favorite authors, Philip Roth, hence the self-evaluation prevalent in its characters and the situations they find themselves in. It is not an uplifting story told within Elegy’s runtime but there is a mature, satisfying journey to be taken with its protagonist and the characters he interacts with. There are very few dramas that share this distinction.