Courtesy of A24

Courtesy of A24

March 21, 2024

Priscilla Speaks!

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Until now, Priscilla Presley’s story has mainly been told as a part of Elvis’. With Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, we now have a special opportunity for an intimate look at her experience, separate from the eye-catching distractions of her husband’s stardom. The movie is unwaveringly tied to Priscilla’s perspective — unsurprising, since Presley served as an executive producer. We follow her as a 14-year-old girl who gets invited to 21-year-old Elvis’ house for a party. We feel the excitement of the pop star’s interest and find ourselves skeptical about what business a grown man has with a child. Later in the movie, we watch as she learns from a magazine headline that he’s been having an affair, and we wait with her in Graceland, Elvis’s luxurious mansion, as she wonders when he’s coming home.

At times, the movie shows us the glamor of being married to Elvis, who was one of the biggest stars in the world at that time, but, for the most part, the movie strips away the elegance that many have assumed made Priscilla’s life a fairytale. She lives in a mansion and wears beautiful clothes, but she is also completely stuck in this life with very little autonomy and an identity made entirely out of association. 

The enormous height difference between the male and female leads really magnifies their age gap. Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi have a much greater height difference than Priscilla and her husband in real life. I was surprised by how most characters don’t take issue with the relationship between the young girl and the grown man. This is an attitude that seems to pervade their story: Elvis cannot be seen as truly in the wrong because he’s handsome and famous. The age gap is most disturbing at first but becomes less jarring as the movie goes on. As an audience, our adjustment to the age gap mimics what likely led to their relationship becoming so normalized in the media. 

The movie is a bit slow and monotone, but this is a really effective choice to tell Priscilla’s story. The tone is melancholy, appropriately, and lacks the climactic structure of a typical drama, but the goal, rather than being to entertain, is to tell Priscilla’s story exactly as she lived it. The colors are muted and the acting is downplayed and reserved. All of these qualities, though, are part of what makes the movie so special. Despite the movie’s quietness and slowness, I was never bored. Each scene was purposeful, and I love how the movie showed so many private conversations between the couple, that only Priscilla herself could have shared with us. 

Though Elvis’ abusive behavior is certainly not downplayed, Coppola and Priscilla portrayed him with a level of tenderness that shows where her feelings may have been blurry and confusing. We don’t see these discussions about Priscilla’s complicated feelings, though. Rather, we get the scenes exactly as she remembers them, allowing viewers to connect these blurry dots for themselves. The film allows Priscilla’s story and all the intricate directorial choices to speak for themselves, rather than attempting to simplify her feelings about the interworking, atypical elements of the relationship. 

The best thing about this movie is that it truly is about Priscilla and not about Elvis. The movie takes place during the height of his career and ends as he is at the peak of his struggle with substance abuse, but we don’t need these stories from this movie. For that, we can watch one of the many pieces of media about him which feature Priscilla as a side character in his life. We don’t need to be convinced that Elvis was a star, but we may need to be shown that he was a predator and, often, a terrible husband. 

Another manifestation of Elvis being decentralized from the film is the omission of all of his songs from the soundtrack. Instead, it featured many other iconic songs of the era such as Sweet Nothin’s” by Brenda Lee and “Baby, I Love You” by the Ramones. 

No one likes to have beloved celebrities ruined for them. Elvis was, and still is, so romanticized that it’s uncomfortable to think of him as a predator, which is partially why it’s taken so long to hear Priscilla’s story. This movie seems to be a way for Priscilla to push against the idea that her life revolved entirely around Elvis and to assert that she has a vivid story of her own, separate from her late ex-husband’s.

Rachel Cannata is a junior in the Hotel School. She can be reached at [email protected]