With the executive producer being Priscilla Presley herself, the movie “Priscilla” offers an insight into the relationship between her and her famed husband Elvis Presley. According to IMDb, the movie is based on Priscilla’s memoir written in 1985, ‘Elvis and Me.’ The intention was to give notice to a side of Elvis hardly publicized yet accurate, according to an interview with Priscilla by Forbes.
The way the film portrayed their relationship and aspects therein was so intelligent, making the boring parts of the film seem short-lived yet well dispersed made the experience for the watcher to mirror what she felt herself. The movie was only interesting when Elvis was on screen or when he directly impacted her life in some way, and that is so reflexive to Priscilla’s personal feelings during those times in her life, as well.
The studio that produced the film, A24, is known for a wide variety of well-known films such as ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once,’ ‘Pearl’ and ‘The Whale.’ While the film was good at face-value, it was excellent with an intentional eye to detail, as well. A fair warning though, the topic of grooming is touched on, and it may be a sensitive subject to some.
Watching the film was difficult at times. Beyond the obvious portrayal of abuse that Priscilla faced, there were also parts of the film that felt well done it honestly hurt to watch them. Priscilla being 14 and a freshman in high school meeting 24-year-old Elvis is so bone-chilling to think about nowadays. Multiple times within the film, her family asked her why he picked her and why he could not pursue a woman his own age makes it clear they even had their reservations towards their age gap. Furthermore, when giving reasons why Priscilla wanted to go and see Elvis again, she said that he needed her—needed. It is such an accurate portrayal of the usual heavy-hitters that accompany grooming or predatory behavior when things such as “she’s so mature for her age” or an obligation put on the younger person to fulfill needs often met by other adults is put within the depiction. The co-dependency and need to be around him 24/7 makes sense considering her age and his reputation, but it does not make it any less heartbreaking to see actualized.
Priscilla leaving her family to go live with Elvis and finish her senior year in the states was a breaking point for me. As someone who is fortunate enough to be close with my family and parents, the idea of putting them through that much worry and stress from my absence feels near impossible. It does not help that her departure seemed like such an intrinsic decision for young Priscilla either, and it felt so debilitating to see her make such a monumental decision for someone other than herself.
During the beginning of the film, there was a sort of haze, the typical sign of young love and a honeymoon phase weaponized against her, taken advantage of entirely. The facade slowly falls as the movie progresses, even without her inherent knowledge. She could not be herself, she had to medicate herself with pills not designated for her just to function between school and him and she was quite honestly miserable as she was not even allowed to have her own life outside of Elvis, citing the point in the movie that she was not allowed to have a part-time job because Elvis needed her at his beck and call while he was off shooting a movie. In fact, she was forced to become entirely dependent on him for everything, including money, while living with him. The power dynamics at play were not that of lovers but of a king and a mistress.
Priscilla graduates from high school, gaining a car and a more serious relationship with Elvis. However, this advancement in their relationship is not accompanied by more love and attention but control and manipulation. Love letters, affairs and doubt sprinkle into their relationship, and Priscilla is still quite young at this point in her life. She questions Elvis only to be met with threats, accusations, and projections of what he needs. They stay in for days on end, watching movies and talking while Elvis’s maid brings them trays of food, expertly shown to have two drinks but only one meal, never showing Priscilla eating.
This neglect is not always as nuanced though, showing multiple occurrences of verbal threats to leave her when she accuses him of infidelity and a few physical moments as well, ranging from an aggressive pillow fight to a literal chair being thrown at her head. As concerning as those events are, what I found most disturbing was how quickly he tried to purify their division and how used to it she became. She expected the embrace after the threats, and she expected to get sent back to visit family after a fight. What is love if the pain is normal?
The end of the film was fantastic despite feeling rushed. I found it peaceful to see her start to be her own person after a point in time. She started wearing clothes she enjoyed, stemming away from her usual blues and pinks, and her hair was back to its natural color. She smiled more often and genuinely, living her own life after detaching from the one she only found living through her husband’s. It also felt realistic, having Priscilla acknowledge that leaving him was hard and that she had to because she would not find the courage to commit to her decision otherwise. Ending the movie with her walking out of a home that was decorated with family photos and driving off felt poetic almost, abandoning this picture-perfect life for one she chose.