There is a pattern to the protagonists featured in Sofia Coppola’s films (Marie Antoinette and Lost in Translation): lonely women living in captivating spaces, with every luxury to their name but a sadness in their solitary existence. Coppola’s women put into question the very patriarchal notion of winning a woman’s heart through materialistic pleasures. As fantastical as life wrapped in golden foil and diamonds to match every mood might seem to be, the protagonists sooner or later question their existence. Priscilla Presley in the 2023 film is no different. Growing up in the late 50s with the idea of agency still a blur, Priscilla finds herself drawn to the man she often fantasizes about. What more can a girl want than to be with the man she loves? Priscilla is about a woman maturing to realize the idea of self beyond an all-consuming relationship.
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
Elvis Presley had earned his share of fame by the time he was stationed at the US Air Force Base in West Germany. Priscilla was a ninth grader with no friends after her family shifted to the new base. She used to spend her time at the cafeteria all by herself, and one day a young man named Terry West walked up to her and invited her to join him and his wife to meet Elvis Presley. Being able to leave her home and meet a famous personality excites Priscilla. But she needed to convince her father to join the party.
In a room full of adults, Priscilla felt a little shy. She noticed Elvis sitting by the sofa, and the man was as charismatic as she had imagined him to be. Elvis did not expect Priscilla to be so young, and he ended up calling her a baby. Even though there was a stark age difference, Elvis found himself drawn to Priscilla. It was all a jolly ride for the teenager living in her parents’ modest household. At times, it almost felt unreal to her to think that the man she once admired was now pursuing her. Be it at school or home, Priscilla was lost in her dreams involving Elvis. It was a love story straight out of her fantasies, and she believed she could not have asked for more. She was heartbroken when he left West Germany to head back to the States. He promised to remember her as she wiped away the tears. Months passed, and she was as obsessed with Elvis as she was the day she met him. She wrote to him, but he did not contact her. News of his affairs made it to the magazines, and Priscilla wondered if it was the end of her fairy tale. One morning, to her surprise, she received a call from Elvis. She was simply glad that he remembered her, and all she wanted was to be with him. Priscilla flew to Memphis to spend a couple of days with the man of her dreams.
The first night they had spent together at Graceland, Elvis made it known that he did not intend to sleep with her until he decided it was the right time. Priscilla was a schoolgoer with no experience with men, and it allowed Elvis to take charge and make decisions. The pivotal role that drugs played in Presley’s life finds a place in Priscilla film. Elvis handed the teenager a 500-mg dose of Placidyl (a drug discontinued in the States), and it knocked her out for two days straight. To be with Elvis, Priscilla tried to appear more mature than her age. Sporting the quintessential 60s beehive hairstyle, Priscilla joined Elvis on a Las Vegas trip, and she had the time of her life. She was devastated when she had to head back home, but Elvis promised that he would find a way for her to get back to the States. Elvis kept his promise, and after agreeing to every criterion laid forth by Priscilla’s father, she was allowed to move to Memphis. She was yet to graduate and was admitted to a missionary school where she continued her education, but the glitz and glam lifestyle kept her mostly distracted and occupied.
Does the grooming notion sit right In Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship?
In this day and age, you are bound to interpret the relationship between Elvis and Priscilla as that between a groomer and his victim. In “Priscilla,” there are countless instances where we see Elvis making decisions for her. It was almost as if she was a handpicked doll whom he could dress the way he wanted, love how he desired, and abandon when he pleased. Considering Priscilla Presley is the executive producer of the film, there is little reason not to trust the account shown.
A grown man dating a teenager was not unheard of in the 1950s, 1960s, and even in the 1970s. There are innumerable songs written by grown men expressing their love for young schoolgirls! What is unacceptable now was quite the trend then, and therefore, we cannot question the choice Elvis Presley made when he was 24. But of course, we cannot deny that Presley groomed Priscilla to become his definition of a desirable woman. She was asked to dye her hair black the way he liked, and he even decided on her eye makeup. Elvis chose her clothes, and her opinion was never taken into consideration. Her entire existence revolved around him, and he preferred to keep it that way. When she expressed her desire to work part-time at a boutique, he strictly asked her to choose between him and her career, and for lovestruck Priscilla, it was an obvious decision. After the late-night parties, Priscilla had to rely on pills to help her stay awake throughout the day and attend classes. She lived in an environment that made it impossible for her to concentrate on her education. Her relationship came in handy when she bribed her classmate with the promise of an Elvis party in exchange for the answers to the test questions.
Living as Elvis’s partner was all that she desired, but as she grew older, she started to feel neglected. She was not allowed to join him when he went to Hollywood to shoot films. Every time he left Memphis, he emphasized how important it was for her to stay at home to keep the fire burning. Elvis had lost his mother when he met Priscilla, and maybe after the loss, he was searching for someone permanent to always look after him like his mother did. He could not expect a career woman to leave everything behind to cater to him, but with Priscilla, it was possible. Even after all his affairs, he had his girl waiting in Memphis, looking forward to his return. Perhaps this sense of assurance was the primary reason why he always returned to her. But for Priscilla, life was lonely in Graceland, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Initially, the cars, the clothes, the jewelry, and the parties made Priscilla feel on top of the world, but as she matured, she started to feel lost and lonely. She realized that being Elvis’ girlfriend had become her identity. The life she once desired started to feel inadequate, and she searched for something that would add meaning to her existence. Every time she expressed her opinion, be it about his drug consumption or his music, she was treated with extreme aggression. Priscilla could not imagine going back to her ordinary life, but at the same time, living with Elvis had started to wear her down.
When did Priscilla decide to end the marriage?
Priscilla found out she was pregnant soon after her marriage to Elvis. She had bittersweet feelings after receiving the news. She was still quite young and not ready to raise a child, and all her plans of spending time with Elvis in Europe had to take a backseat until the delivery. Priscilla expressed her concern, but her husband wanted her to keep the child. She was once again locked up in the house, with her husband gone for days. As she navigated through her pregnancy, she came across newspaper articles discussing Elvis’ relationship with Nancy Sinatra. When he returned home, he wanted to take a break from their marriage, and to his surprise, Priscilla seemed unexpectedly calm about it. Maybe he had expected a breakdown, but when that did not happen, he changed his mind within minutes.
Their daughter was born, and Priscilla was hopeful that now she and Elvis would finally get some time together. Elvis’ relationship with Priscilla was never overtly sexual; according to the film, they only had sexual intercourse after marriage. Priscilla wanted to make love, but Elvis did not seem interested in or even comfortable getting intimate with her after their daughter was born. Over time, Elvis’ popularity skyrocketed, and he was all the more absent from Priscilla’s life. Her daughter kept her occupied, and she enrolled in karate classes with Mike Stone. She took a liking for him, and the distance between her and Elvis only got worse. His life had started to revolve between the stage and the hotel rooms, and he had no time for his family.
During Priscilla’s ending, we found that Elvis had invited Priscilla to his hotel room where the man tried to force himself on her in order to show the woman how a real man makes love. Earlier, Elvis had found out about her affair with Stone, and the entire episode was his show of frustration, jealousy and rage. By then, Priscilla had already realized that her marriage to Elvis was a cage she needed to free herself from. She waited in his hotel room, and when Elvis woke up, she stated that she wanted to end their marriage. He believed he had provided her with everything that a woman could want, and she left him, saying that he was losing her to a life of her own. Maybe he did expect Priscilla to walk out, but deep down, even he knew their marriage was not working out. As we all know, Elvis Presley’s life took a turn for the worse as a result of his drug abuse. Priscilla film ends with titular character driving out of Graceland, a place she had arrived at wearing rose-tinted glasses and dreaming of a happily ever after. She arrived as a naive teenager, and she left as a confident woman who knew what she wanted from life.