Maybe only Philip Roth can write a blowjob scene so literarily essential that its absence from a movie adaptation of his book must be pointed out and lamented. The book is called The Dying Animal, the movie is called Elegy, and the difference between those titles says a lot. It’s in that faintly defensive declaration of tastefulness — the glassy surfaces, soberly photographed; the Erik Satie Gnossiennes on the soundtrack — that the film forfeits all its source’s gnashing confessional insights on sex and death.
You’d think screenwriter Nicholas Meyer would know better — not because Meyer also adapted Roth’s novel The Human Stain, but because he made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, still the best and lustiest outing in that franchise; surely the guy who gave us a hyper-literate, open-shirted Ricardo Montalban for the ages should know his way into the literary-minded libido of a self-important breast fetishist.
But no, not so much. Ben Kingsley is an intriguing choice to play the 62-year-old professor and public intellectual David Kepesh, and Penélope Cruz is the obvious choice to play his 24-year-old student and lover Consuela Castillo — the first conquest Kepesh actually worries about losing. The novelist is crueler to his alter-ego protagonist than Meyer or director Isabel Coixet wishes to be; her sympathy in particular plays like precisely the sort of girlish infatuation of which Kepesh probably should not be rewarded for taking advantage.
And, it should be mentioned, this is not the first time that a painting by Diego Velázquez has been used as a spur to cinematic cradle robbery.
Anyway, Elegy makes room for but gives little thanks to Dennis Hopper as the professor’s Pulitzer-winning poet friend, Patricia Clarkson as his longtime mistress, Peter Sarsgaard as his alienated son, and, lucky us, Charlie Rose as himself.