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The King referred to in the The King is by no means a companion piece to Stephen Frearss The Queen but nestles into a more reserved and darkly enamouring portrait of a humanistic animal that thrusts himself into idyllic Americana, a bastard in all sense of the word.
The King is unsettlingly aorist in its attempt to create a monstrous human named Elvis (Gael Garcia Bernal) and only hints at the rationale behind the shocking madness and chaos that he brings upon the revered Reverend Sandow (William Hurt), the well-liked minister of a church in Texas and his family. It sets up a confrontation between the two Kings (the other being Jesus of course) so delicately delivered that it tears the misguided ministers life apart as his sinful past hangs ominously above him.
The charismatically endowed Bernal uses that particular gift to the fullest extent in his first English-speaking role. He charms those around him with a smile on his face and a wide-eyed naivet that hides frightening intelligence and malevolence. Straight out of the Navy, he makes his way and traces his past to Corpus Christi to locate someone specific. When Elvis does find the Reverend Sandow, he puts a face on the preachers sordid past, one that the pastor left behind after he met Christ. Both men come to a standstill as their feelings are laid bare and wounded.
Too mapped out to consider the film a character study of Bernals Elvis Valderez, its more concerned with the effects of an intruding figure into the strictly Christian familys existence. The virginal daughters sudden encroachment into womanhood takes a twisted turn while a Bible-thumper in training is given a rude shock about his devotion to his faith. The pastoral patriarch finds no solace in his God as the silent wife stands on the wayside but understands more than anyone else realises. Even then, were left to figure out the overtures and aftermath of the preceding and proceeding actions of each character, each one phenomenally acted upon. Its a refreshing and brave venture that strikes deep into the heart of those lauded all-American values, revealing the shallow facades and decadence that lie beneath a conceit of morality.
The allusions to Biblical iconography are the focal point of the film. The hypocrisies and delusions of Christian fundamentalism are given the full work around by director James Marsh with the co-scripting of Milo Addica whose most recognised works in Monsters Ball and Birth share fleeting semblances with the characters in The King. These are the characters that are so understated and subtle in their motivations, and so removed from their own reality that we become enthralled by their obsessions and casuistries. The camera follows Elvis so languidly and breezily that the red-state coastal city seems a natural locale for this storys Shakespearean portions of betrayal, incest and bloodshed.