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The Sunflower

REVIEW: ‘Priscilla’ extends mournful piece of American mythos

Photo+courtesy+of+A24
Photo courtesy of A24

When I saw Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel like I just walked out of Elvis Presley’s funeral. More than a year later, Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” invites audiences to the painful rebirth of Priscilla Presley as she navigates the fact that first loves and global icons mix like oil and water.

Based on her memoir, “Elvis and Me,” “Priscilla” walks through the relationship of one of America’s most iconic and increasingly problematic couples, Elvis and Priscilla Presley.

Freakishly young until the final moments of the film, Cailee Spaeny flawlessly cycles through wonderment, pain, unconditional love and a desire to please as Priscilla Presley. 

Elvis, played by Jacob Elordi, is a perpetual teenage boy with a hot temper, drug addiction and infidelity issues. Throughout their entire marriage, he continuously does abusive and atrocious things to Priscilla, from controlling where she goes to constantly threatening to send her back to her parents, all culminating in an attempt to sexually assault her.

Elordi, as an actor, is a good stock image for this version of Elvis: intimidating, charming and dopey, with the ability to flip a switch and go into a blind rage.

While the film certainly shows the glitz and glamor of being a Presley and Presley-adjacent, Graceland seemed more like an established space here than in any other presentation of it. Instead of being Elvis’ base camp, it is Priscilla’s home.

The viewer, like Priscilla, is trapped in Graceland for the majority of the film while Elvis is off filming movies and having affairs with his costars. This is all but confirmed in a moment where Priscilla, in her need to please, is left behind at Graceland yet again with her beehived, dyed black hair and heavily lined eyes, and the gridded windows slash across her face like prison bars.

The film builds up a lot of anger toward Elvis and his mistreatment of Priscilla, but, of course, this comes crashing down too, as their marriage and his fame begin to deteriorate.

Spaeny has the tall task of spanning the age of 14 to about 30 in around two hours and successfully does so, but her babyface hangs around until Elvis and Priscilla’s marriage has collapsed, and they are both leading separate lives.

Only when she is able to see through Elvis the Myth to Elvis the Man can Priscilla stop relying on looking like his little girl and become her own person.

When she finally drives through the gates of Graceland with tears in her eyes to Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” that hatred for Elvis begins to dissolve into this deepcut pain in letting go of someone you never really had a grasp on.

In a story that is so often told from Elvis’ perspective, it is refreshing to see the chaos and turmoil of Elvis’ fame from someone who was unexpectedly thrown into his life at such a vulnerable age. Another side to this neverending piece of Americana, “Priscilla” is a must-watch for Elvis fans and haters alike.

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About the Contributor
Trinity Ramm, Managing Editor
Trinity Ramm is the managing editor and former sports editor for The Sunflower. This is her second year on staff. Ramm is a senior English Lit major and a sociology minor with a certificate in film studies. In her limited spare time, she can be found at the movie theater, browsing some obscure film database or crocheting. Ramm uses she/her pronouns.

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  • V

    VickieNov 25, 2023 at 9:51 pm

    I’m a devout Elvis and Priscilla fan. I saw “Priscilla”, the first day it was released, then I went and saw it again the day after Thanksgiving. I really like the movie and Priscilla’s story. I do have to agree with the observation written by Trinity Ramm. Knowing that Elvis had a hair trigger temper and nobody told him no or disagreed with him, she tried to give her opinion on numerous occasions. He didn’t like it of course and would try to pack her off to her parents. Yes, when she’s leaving him, I have to say that I had tears and felt sorry for both of them. I’m not sure if she actually knew what she was in for or just that naive. I grew up in the 50’s/60’s and was naive, but I also was a fighter. I would no more put up with a guy telling me what to do or wear as I would tell him to take a flying leap! Yes, when she was leaving him, I had tears and felt sorry for both. Dolly Parton’s song was so fitting for that time of Priscilla’s life! I’m still a big Elvis and Priscilla fan.

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  • D

    David GibbsNov 25, 2023 at 8:36 am

    If Elvis was such a monster why as she clung on to his name and status for fifty years and wants to be buried next to him in Graceland.She is a money grabbing disingenuous cow.

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