Review: Elvis (2022)


Hi everyone. Morbius was so bad that it turned off the lights of this grand ol’ blog. Hyperbolic sentiment aside, the mundanity of real life including work, getting settled into a new place, and a general lack of motivation has kept me away from blogging. But I’m back now and ready to rock and roll. If there were two things that are equivalent of two north pole magnets repelling insofar as my attention is concerned, then it would be Elvis and Baz Luhrmann.

Despite adoring Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby, his other films have been slick but overly produced and tiresome flights of fancy. Combine that with Elvis, whose music I’ve never really cared for, and you have a recipe for something that would have me running from the cinema in sheer terror. Did that prove to be true? Well, you can find out after the drop. What did you think of Elvis? Let me know in the comments below.


If there’s one figure who has an eternal omnipresence in pop culture, then it’s Elvis. He’s spawned music, movies and even a cottage industry of impersonations from Nicolas Cage to aspiring Vegas amateurs. The pairing of his story and Baz Luhrmann seems like a curious choice. Luhrmann’s last film- The Great Gatsby, struck a balance between the sheer dizzying excesses of the period and the humanity of the title character’s incorruptible dream. It’s the sole Luhrmann film I’ve liked and proved to be a striking exercise in literary adaptation. With its unique vantage point and themes, Elvis is at times electrifying and fascinating. But it’s also exhausting and somewhat one note in nature.

Told from the point of view of Elvis Presley’s (Austin Butler) manager- Colonial Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), Luhrmann’s film depicts the rock and roll singer’s musical career from his early days among country singers to his exhaustive Las Vegas tour. This is contrasted with an ever-changing climate in American culture as it comes to terms with the death of Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy.

Much like his previous films, Luhrmann’s feverish fairy tale is told from an interesting perspective, namely Parker, who narrates the story from his deathbed. The result is unique spin on the typical structure that constrains bio pics. The film explores the icon of Elvis and his effect on the world. At the same time, it also grapples with what truly killed him.

By the film’s admission, the creation of Elvis is cut from the same cloth as seeing a freak act at the circus. But rather then be horrified by the act, the audience is instead aroused and stimulated as though it’s a sex act. This depiction of Rock and Roll as a Pandora’s Box for the denizens of 1950s America lends the film with its potent power. At the same time, Parker argues that the audience killed Elvis insofar their love and adoration kept him hooked in a cycle of performing for their constant attention. This quality along with aspects that touch on cancel culture and parasocial relationships makes the film’s subtext, fascinating in its scope.

The film also acknowledges that Parker killed Elvis in some senses by trapping him in an eternal cycle of performing at the same place, so he could indulge in his gambling addiction. These moments where Elvis becomes a glitzy and forlorn Gothic horror in which Vegas stands in for the soul of the singer, who night after night loses a part of himself in performing is when Luhrmann’s movie really engaged and spoke to me.

However, this structure proves to be a double-edged sword. Just like Parker (in a sense) traps Elvis in a persistent cycle of performing in Vegas, so does Luhrmann with his portrayal of Elvis. Due to sketching him in the most heightened and appealing way (via his various performances), there’s little humanity or dimension to the character. In fact, there’s quite a telling line at the tail end of the movie where Parker likens Elvis to a ghost outside of his live shows. This problem coupled with Luhrmann’s knack to overegg visual metaphors (including one eye-rolling scene about feeling lost in a hall of mirrors) makes Elvis sometimes feel like a chore to sit through.

To say that Austin Butler embodies Elvis is an understatement. Instead, it sometimes feels like a spooky act of resurrection, particularly in the latter stages of the film where the star is at his most well-established status. Butler’s physicality and energetic verve also feel like a perfect fit for Luhrmann’s brash and operatic direction. In fact, the Hayride performance sequence illustrates this melding excellently; playing like a tennis match between Elvis’s gyrating crotch and Luhrmann’s flurry of close-ups and low-angle shots. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks is in top form as Colonial Tom Parker, delivering nearly every line with the devilish glee of a pantomime performer.

Elvis is the definition of a mixed blessing. It’s an effort that represents the excesses of Luhrmann’s style and his strength in creating beguiling myths that attempt to parallel and juxtapose the past and present in fascinating ways. However, by a certain point, I felt trapped by the film’s one-note portrayal of its title character and was yearning for more shading.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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