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Priscilla (2023) is Sofia Coppola’s Raging Bull (1980); a film that documents the all encompassing destructive nature of masculinity. But unlike Scorsese’s film, Priscilla is a story told from the perspective of the victim, not the victimizer. Both films are biographies that chart the human debris left in the wake of a larger than life personality. Each film adopts a variation of the jukebox soundtrack of Mean Streets (1973) to evoke an emotional subtext that is often too much to bear or too complex to articulate in a Pop Art idiom.

The title character and subject of Coppola’s latest is another entry in the director’s pantheon of women survivors. Some critics have called these characters “sad princesses” but that label diminishes the impact of Coppola’s body of work. The women that Coppola is drawn to vary from Priscilla Presley to Marie Antoinette to the Lisbon sisters. The scale of some of these stories is opulent while others are far more down to earth. What these stories share is their distant place in our history that keeps them at a safe remove. The spectator can peer into life at Graceland and see reflected in those images a very real and immediate terror that still exists today whilst never feeling entirely immersed in the psychodrama.

The curated, glossy veneer of a Sofia Coppola film always contains a darkness, an existential abyss. Though never as plastic or campy as her contemporary Wes Anderson, Coppola’s stylistic tactics nonetheless overlap with that purveyor of kitsch fetish objects. From needle drops that run the gamut from Dan Deacon to Tommy James & The Shondells to exquisite close ups of mid-century modern furniture Priscilla is a film of exacting, calculated style. The cumulative effect of Coppola’s stylistic impulses is to articulate and reveal that gilded cage that Elvis (Jacob Elordi) built to house Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny).

In this way Priscilla is a portrait of an era (and the attitudes thereof) as well as a woman and her marriage. What was acceptable in the sixties is no longer acceptable now. Coppola shows us an Elvis who is a predator who grooms Priscilla from the age of fifteen to be his wife. The audience is confronted with an Elvis who would never survive in today’s cultural climate and a Priscilla who is anything but the “housewife” that the Elvis myth suggests. For Coppola the title character of her film is a victim who survived and ultimately thrived.

The social and political relevancy of Priscilla is effectively doubled by the film Elvis (2022) by Baz Luhrmann that preceded Coppola’s film by roughly a year. The grandiose myth making post-modernist spectacle of Luhrmann did everything to reinvigorate the flames of the Elvis legend. Elvis is a film made to be timeless, Priscilla, with all of its detail and immediacy, is a film of two distinct moments: then and now.