By Anna Harman
With every scene in “Elvis”, Austin Butler brought the King back to life for a new audience.
The biopic “Elvis”, directed by Baz Luhrmann, was released on June 24 of this year. This phenomenal biographical film about rock and roll star Elvis Presley is told from the perspective of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. It follows the life of Elvis from a young age to when he was eventually discovered as a musician and into his resulting stardom. The film seeks to portray who Elvis really was and to give young people today a glimpse into the life of an icon before their time.
First and foremost, there is something about the intro to this movie that is electrifying. It begins with the movie title, surrounded by flashy rhinestones and gold, accompanied by an echo-like vocal snippet of Elvis’ song “Suspicious Minds,” It perfectly captures the dramatic and nostalgic tone of the movie. I watched this movie multiple times and every time the introduction played, it felt like I was experiencing the excitement of watching it for the first time.
From the moment Austin Butler appears on screen, he is Elvis. I can’t stress enough just how incredibly Austin Butler executed the role of Elvis in this film. He truly wanted to find out who Elvis was and connect to him, instead of just impersonating him based on the world’s portrayal of Elvis Presley. After receiving the role, Butler spent nearly two years immersing himself in all things Elvis, part of which was due to the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. He spoke of wanting to “merge” their two souls, in a sense, and “become” Elvis for this role. He studied hours of footage of Elvis and listened to nothing but his music for that period of time. He fell asleep listening to Presley’s voice, desperately wanting to be able to replicate the patterns of his voice. He even wrote letters back and forth in character with co-star Tom Hanks (Colonel Tom Parker). He also mastered tap and swing dance, in an effort to portray his movements. He was hospitalized for a week immediately after filming for “Elvis” ended. He had exhausted his body and developed a virus with symptoms close to those of appendicitis. Tom Hanks warned Austin Butler during filming that he shouldn’t go so hard all of the time. He told Butler to read a book once a day that had nothing to do with the movie, so that he could be reminded that other things still matter in the world. He tried to take his co-star’s advice but he still pushed himself farther than was healthy. He dedicated so much of his time, body, and mind to this role for so long and I am completely astonished by Butler’s commitment.
Butler’s performance gives you a sense of why there was such hysteria among Elvis’ fans back then. I believe that this film accurately depicts what the fans were feeling and experiencing while watching Elvis perform. It was as Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) says in the film, “he was a taste of forbidden fruit.” I think this fact is crucial. It gives you some insight as to why Elvis was so shocking to the world back then and just how unique his style truly was. The filmmakers did an excellent job communicating this about him and giving viewers a glimpse into the feelings of the audience and the nation overall during this time period.
Butler isn’t the only one that made this film worthwhile. Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Dacre Montgomery, and Helen Thomson are among some of the talented actors and actresses behind the film. Olivia DeJonge is a spitting image of Priscilla and I loved her performance in this movie. Priscilla was one of the most central people in Elvis’ life so I thought it was great to see DeJonge represent the strong impact she had on him and also the love they held for each other. Priscilla Presley herself was in support of this movie and praised Austin Butler for his work and portrayal of Elvis. Priscilla said in an interview with Good Morning America “As I was watching it, actually, I was going wow, this is a movie that he would have really loved. Showing who he was, what he was striving for, what his dreams were.” How incredible is it that the woman that knew him and loved him fully believed in this film and validated the story it told of her late husband?
I also thought that Helen Thomson (Gladys Presley) did a great job portraying Elvis’ mother with whom he shared a very close relationship. His mother had a powerful influence on him, and you could see Elvis’ adoration and devotion to her throughout the film. It was gut-wrenching to watch Butler enact Elvis losing his mother. Butler also lost his own mother to her battle with cancer, so his depiction of Elvis’ grief and agony over his deceased mother was a very personal and raw representation.
It’s been 45 years since the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, died at the age of 42. But he is kept alive by the people that knew and loved him, and because of the people that put their hearts into this movie in an effort to show the world today just how much of a timeless legend he really is. His influence on the music industry will live on forever, as will the weight of his untimely passing.
I give “Elvis” a 10/10!
“Elvis” is now available on HBO Max and Hulu premium, or it can be rented on many other streaming services.
Anna Harman is a junior Biblical Studies major and also a reporter for Cedars. She appreciates writing, peppermint tea, flowers, and going to concerts.