Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley and Jacob Elordi as Elvis in Priscilla from A24

Sofia Coppola’s Vibrant ‘Priscilla’ Paints a Darker Image of Life With Elvis

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Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla brings us into the 1960s with her beehive-laden take on the novel Elvis and Me, written by Priscilla Presley and Sandra Harmon. A look at the life of Priscilla Presley instead of focusing on her husband for once, Coppola’s film is a testament to the image that Elvis (Jacob Elordi) built for himself, and shows us that what the world sees as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is more than just the hips and the hair.

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Cailee Spaeny plays Priscilla from the age of 14 through the age of 28, when she eventually leaves Elvis with their daughter Lisa Marie. Coppola doesn’t hide the fact that there was a 10-year age gap between the King and his beloved when the two met. Priscilla was still in high school in Germany when Elvis was serving overseas and met her at a party at his home. Through all of the vibrant colors and the picture-perfect snapshots that we have been sold of Elvis and Priscilla’s life together, Coppola weaves in a story of a woman who was crafted to be an immaculate bride for a rockstar who just wanted company and nothing more; a little girl who would stay at home and be quiet unless he wanted her to speak up.

It’s not a story about a monster and it’s not a teardown of the relationship. Presley herself still had a say in the story and in the relationship, which she doesn’t talk badly about to this day, but Coppola’s writing and directing still paints a picture of Elvis that we’ve not seen on screen because we’re often looking at the musician through the male gaze.

The pieces of Elvis’ past they try to hide

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley and Jacob Elordi as Elvis in Priscilla from A24
(A24)

Those of us familiar with Elvis’ history know that he’s not perfect. Not only was Priscilla a freshman in high school when they met (and he was 24 years old), but the anger and the pain that existed in Elvis’ life behind the public facade is well-known. Yet almost every story we’ve seen about Elvis is about the woeful aspects of his life; the sadness that existed because of what men like Colonel Tom Parker did to him. While tragic, it doesn’t excuse what happened in his relationship with Priscilla.

Coppola’s take on their love story is one that doesn’t depict a beautiful and aspirational love story. It’s not one of a rock ‘n’ roll couple we should aim to be. The beauty and the glitz, the big hair and the lavish lifestyle hides an almost loveless marriage, highlighting rumors that have swirled about Elvis’ own relationship to sex. All of this is a world of difference from the male lens that we’ve seen Elvis through time and time again.

Maybe it’s because this is Coppola’s take on him, or maybe it’s because this isn’t a story focused on Elvis, but Priscilla doesn’t try to sugarcoat the darker parts of who Elvis really was. It doesn’t make him an outright horrible person, either. Coppola just doesn’t portray him as the larger-than-life figure that he’s become based on how movies and the world at large have depicted him over the years. Which helps let Priscilla really thrive as a story that belongs to Priscilla herself.

This is Priscilla’s story

Cailee Spaeny as Priscilla Presley in Priscilla from A24
(A24)

Between all the beautiful clothes and the set pieces that are moving homages to Elvis’ world, Priscilla sets the scene for audiences to learn everything there is to know about Priscilla Presley. It’s a glimpse into the life of a woman who met the man she loved from afar as a young girl, and what happened when that celebrity obsession became her reality—and how no one was willing to step up and stop a 24-year-old from taking over the life of a child.

It bears repeating: Priscilla was 14 years old when 24-year-old Elvis Presley came into her life. Her parents let Priscilla fly to Graceland to be with him, let her live with him there and finish school and then marry him right after she graduated. She had Lisa Marie Presley at the age of 22. Priscilla’s entire life happened at such a young age because Elvis preyed on a girl enamored by the dark-haired wonder.

Coppola uses the height difference between Elordi and Spaeny to remind us just how small and young Priscilla was in comparison to the looming figure of Elvis. He comes in, consumes her, and leaves to make movies or go on tour. Priscilla is constantly surrounded by rumors of her husband’s affairs with Ann Margret and Nancy Sinatra, and he does nothing to make her feel better about it all. Priscilla really shows how Priscilla Presley dealt with the fame and the turmoil of Elvis as a man, and her journey to ultimately choosing to move on from him.

Coppola really uses the beauty of Graceland to paint the dark truth about their love in such an impactful way, leaving me breathless by the end.

(featured image: A24)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.