“Priscilla” tells the story of Priscilla Presley’s ultimately doomed relationship with superstar Elvis Presley without shying away from their toxic love and disturbing power imbalance.
Directed by Sofia Coppola, “Priscilla” is a must-watch, especially for anyone who is a fan of Coppola’s most popular films like “Marie Antoinette” and “The Virgin Suicides.”
Having seen the film during its opening weekend after months of anticipation, I can confirm that it lived up to my high expectations.
The biographical film was based on Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me” and it follows Priscilla’s perspective, focusing on her feelings towards fame and the relationship that she shared with the rock ‘n’ roll icon.
“Priscilla” shows that Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship was anything but perfect, despite being so heavily idolized and romanticized.
From the very beginning of the film, it is emphasized that Priscilla is a 14 year old child when she begins her relationship with Elvis, who was 24 years old at the time of their first meeting.
The age gap between them alone is wildly inappropriate and even illegal. The power dynamic is made more alarming by Elvis’ larger-than-life figure and the fact that Priscilla is a young girl still living with her parents.
Coppola did an excellent job at making the audience feel what Priscilla did in every stage of her relationship with Elvis. For instance, the beginning of the film makes us feel like a teenage girl experiencing love for the first time and particularly love that seems more like fantasy than reality.
Priscilla and Elvis seem to have a “love at first sight” moment but Priscilla’s attraction to him is depicted as more of a teenage crush. She is shown doodling in her notebook about Elvis and walking around with a smirk on her face over the thought of having caught his romantic attention.
It was almost cute to see Priscilla head over heels for the man of her dreams until the film would cut to a scene of her asking her parents for permission to go out for the night. It served as a reminder that she is 14 years old.
Once Priscilla moves into Graceland, the audience feels as though we, like Priscilla, are trapped in a prison of fame and luxury. Along with her newfound fame, Priscilla is bombarded with new rules to live by that completely change her world.
She can no longer invite people to her house, attend school without causing a scene or even play with her dog outside. It is a drastic change for a girl who came from a relatively simple lifestyle.
A defining moment for Priscilla’s transformation into a full blown celebrity is a scene in which Elvis takes her shopping and tells her exactly how he wants her to look.
One of my favorite moments was the montage of Priscilla putting on dramatic, doll-like false eyelashes, applying thick winged eyeliner and getting her hair dyed in an all pink hair salon. The inclusion of a “getting ready” scene is a staple in Coppola’s films, so this scene in “Priscilla” certainly did not disappoint.
“He [Elvis] had really definite ideas of how she should look, and she was almost like this doll to him,” Coppola said, in an interview with NPR.
“That thing when you’re young, you’re trying to be more grown up, or fit in with the older kids, and so I approached it like that.”
It was refreshing to see that “Priscilla” never made an effort to hide Elvis’ controlling and manipulative nature during his marriage to Priscilla.
The film included several scenes referencing his infamous infidelity throughout their marriage, many resulting in outbursts of anger towards Priscilla for confronting him about it.
In a separate fit of anger, Elvis goes as far as throwing a chair at Priscilla and she would have been hit in the head if she hadn’t ducked in time because she simply disliked a song demo.
The audience in my screening let out a collective gasp as soon as the chair flew across the room toward Priscilla. This moment was horrifying to watch as it was one of the clearest depictions of Elvis’ anger issues in the film.
Soon after Priscilla reveals her pregnancy to Elvis, he asks her to leave Graceland and take a break from their relationship. He immediately takes back the suggestion but Priscilla’s silent sobbing when she walks through the huge, lonely house to get away from him leaves a haunting impression on the audience.
By the time Priscilla decides to leave Elvis and Graceland at the end of the film, we feel as though we are watching a horror movie finally come to a resolution.
Despite having shed a few tears throughout the movie, I can confidently say that “Priscilla” is a movie that everyone should see in theaters. It provides an important perspective on the lives of two of the most recognizable American icons of all time.