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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Behind the shadow: “Priscilla” shines

Sofia Coppola’s biopic “Priscilla” perfectly portrays the prison of fame that Priscilla Presley once called home.

Buried beneath heavy black eye makeup and concealed behind the six feet tall shadow of the world’s most famous rockstar sat a girl whose story was waiting to be heard. Her name was Priscilla Presley.

On Nov. 3, 2023, Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” hit theaters, finally telling the story of the misunderstood and mistreated ex-wife of Elvis Presley. Inspired by Priscilla’s memoir “Elvis and Me,” and produced by Priscilla, the film gives justice to the complexity of her character and flips the traditional narrative of her passivity in their relationship.

The film follows Priscilla’s (Cailee Spaeny) transformation through the passionate but toxic relationship she had with Elvis (Jacob Elordi). The movie works to pull back the curtain on the dark truths of marrying a rockstar and the power dynamics at play.

This film’s biggest strength is undoubtedly the direction. Coppola masterfully juxtaposes scenes of the playful, adoring couple having a pretend pillow fight right next to a violent outburst from Elvis. Reels of loving, passionate pool days followed by flashes of abuse and Priscilla’s forgiveness are painfully polarizing. The whiplash of their honeymoon highs and lowest lows in a matter of seconds creates a poignant portrayal of their unhealthy relationship.

Part of Coppola’s genius is the subtle but constant reminders of Priscilla’s youth throughout the film. In the very first scene, 14-year-old Priscilla is invited to 24-year-old Elvis’s party while she works on her homework and sips a soda. We then see clips of her at high school as she becomes progressively more distracted by Elvis in an attempt to illustrate her loss of childhood. Even later in their relationship, Elvis gifts her a little white puppy, further emphasizing how young she was. These small intentional details work to paint a slightly unsettling backdrop to their romance.

Spaeny’s stunning performance provides the audience with a chilling understanding of all that Priscilla endured in silence. With very little dialogue and slight changes in expression, she artfully shows the quiet strength that Priscilla held beautifully. Not only is she the uncanny appearance of young Priscilla, she also masters all of her mannerisms and voice perfectly.

One detail I particularly appreciated was how changes in Priscilla’s appearance mirror her personal agency. At the beginning of her relationship with Elvis, he instructs her to dye her hair black, wear more eye makeup and restrict her clothing choices and, as he tightens his control of her throughout the film, Priscilla appears more and more manicured, like a doll at his every whim. However, once Priscilla has separated from him, her hair returns to its natural color, her makeup softens and she is seen wearing patterned shirts – something previously forbidden by her husband.

My only criticism is that Priscilla’s drug use is introduced in the film and then rarely mentioned after the midway point of the movie. I think it would have been interesting to learn more about how Elvis encouraged her drug use at such a young age.

Elordi’s portrayal of Elvis is another strong suit of the film. His ability to go from a sweet, devoted husband to an aggressive, violent abuser in a matter of seconds is shocking. His performance is impressive, yet the spotlight is able to remain on Priscilla.

I loved how visual storytelling was prioritized over lengthy dialogue. Priscilla rarely verbalizes her discovery of Elvis’s infidelity. Instead, we are shown scenes of her painfully leafing through magazines exposing his affairs. Some of the most powerful moments in the whole movie are completely void of words.

Indeed, Coppola uses silence as a main ingredient in Priscilla’s sense of isolation. It was incredible when Spaeny was shown alone in the silent, white and empty mansion as the camera panned out farther and farther away. The camera work makes Priscilla appear trapped in this prison of fame and, combined with Spaeny’s impeccable tortured expression, I was overcome with sympathy for her complete lack of autonomy.

The final scene is definitely my favorite. We watch Priscilla finally leave the infamous “Graceland” and drive away wearing her own chosen clothes and hair. As the gates open to release her, Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” plays in the background. Coppola could not have picked a more perfect way to end the movie, capturing Priscilla’s palpable freedom from Elvis without disregarding the fact that she loved him. It also becomes a full circle moment because, throughout their relationship, Priscilla was always driven by a man, but now she has the agency to drive her own car away from him. The choice of using a strong female singer’s ballad as the outro is a delectable cherry on top.

If you can’t tell, I loved this film. I think that Coppola has yet again proven herself as an extremely capable director and restored my faith that movies don’t have to be three-and-a-half hours long to be incredible.

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