Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College's student newspaper

The Berkeley Beacon

Sofia gives “Priscilla” an important spotlight to share her story

Photo: Kellyn Taylor

The opening of Sofia Coppola’s new film “Priscilla” features a young woman applying her makeup, immediately giving the audience the impression that vanity will be an important factor in the movie. It pulls the audience in: what did it mean to be expected to sit still and look pretty? What did it mean to be married to Elvis Presley? The movie aims to examine these questions.

The film debuted in theaters globally Nov. 3, featuring Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny), Elvis Presley’s (Jacob Elordi), and their relationship from 1959 to 1973. 

The film spans from when Priscilla meets Elvis at age 14 in West Germany, where her stepfather was stationed, to when they divorced in her mid-twenties from their gaudy Memphis estate. It emphasizes the rollercoaster of emotions Elvis put her through, as well as the obnoxious, foul side of him unbeknownst to the public, that she was continuously exposed to.

Spaeny’s acting is a shining star throughout the movie. Her facial expressions are crushing—for example, every time she realizes that Elvis has cheated on her, the audience can see how crestfallen and desperate she is just by the way she forces her eyes to quiver.

Spaeny’s depiction of Priscilla expertly conveys the internal emotions of falling in love naively and slowly being betrayed over and over again for more than a decade. The movie effectively instills an aching sympathy from the audience for her.

The sympathy we’re meant to have for Priscilla comes with the obvious disdain we’re told to have for Elvis. Coppola writes and depicts him honestly and brutally, not sugarcoating his predatory nature and mistreatment towards Priscilla.

The movie emphasizes how young Priscilla was when she met him and how he went about taking advantage of her. He wraps her in a symbolic chokehold from the moment he flirts with her when he was 24, a decade her senior.

Elordi—known for playing Nate Jacobs in the HBO series “Euphoria”—did an effective job portraying Elvis. He executes his pretentious and disrespectful nature well. His and Coppola’s portrayal of Elvis strongly differs from that of Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 film “Elvis,” which primarily views the singer through rose-colored glasses. Luhrmann attempts to humanize Elvis, while Coppola attempts to show how Elvis acted inhumanely.

The film was made in close contact with Priscilla Presley, who contributed as an executive producer. “Priscilla” was based on Presley’s autobiography about her relationship with him, the 1985 book “Elvis and Me.” 

The movie truly feels like an inward look into the life and psyche of Priscilla. This was done well, as I was initially worried there would be an overt Elvis focus—that the audience would be left wanting to know more about Priscilla as a person and her internal monologue surrounding the relationship.

Instead, we get a look into her emotional well-being, as well as information about her family and her school life. However, to double back, a lot of what the audience sees about her directly relates to Elvis, but it feels intentional enough that it works as a strength of the film.

Elvis set out to take over her life and have her live for him.

I found “Priscilla” to be a very intimate movie. The encapsulating focus on Priscilla and Elvis and how her feelings towards him morphed with each instance of disrespect almost left me questioning, “Is this my business?” I felt this showed that Coppola achieved the goal of exposing the horrible acts of such an idolized figure like Elvis.

In terms of Coppola’s entire filmography, “Priscilla” fits right in with her signature directorial discography. Many of her films follow a common theme, the experience of young womanhood, such as her 1999 film “The Virgin Suicides.” This also isn’t the first time she has taken a book centered around a female figure in history and adapted it—Coppola also did so in her 2006 film “Marie Antoinette.”

Another notable choice Coppola made was with the film’s color grading and general visual elements. The film used a mostly dim color palette—bright scenes almost only existed when utter wealth and decadence were being shown.

The idea of vanity being of utmost importance (what society expected of the wife of Elvis) is stylistically conveyed—every scene felt lavish and shimmery. Despite this, though the air of corruption persisted, Coppola ensured the audience was not distracted from the deeply unsettling story being told.

Beyond the acting prowess of its two stars and its well-defined style, this film served an important purpose: it platformed Priscilla Presley’s story and the trauma she endured in a widespread manner. The film can break down society’s unquenched idolization and romanticization of Elvis. 

With “Priscilla” in theaters, masses are listening intently to a detailed and honest account of a survivor. The film has the potential to impact audiences to be more empathetic and aware of these types of relationship dynamics. In an interview with the Associated Press, Coppola said: “I was getting pressured to cut out anything negative about him and I was being firm. I was really clear that I wanted to tell her story and that was my priority.”

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Sasha Zirin, Assistant Living Arts Editor
Sasha Zirin, they/them, is a sophomore hailing from the Washington, D.C. metro area, majoring in journalism. They hold the role of Assistant Living Arts Editor and derive immense satisfaction from writing across the spectrum of news and the living arts. Sasha is an active contributor to Emerson's arts publication, EM Magazine, and maintains a robust affiliation with the Emerson Poetry Project. During their free moments, they indulge in their love for reading, drawing, knitting, and watching movies.

Comments (0)

The Berkeley Beacon intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards. The Berkeley Beacon requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
All The Berkeley Beacon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *