DRAMA: 1hr 54min
STARRING: Penélope Cruz, Ben Kingsley
Learning curve: Kingsley and Cruz
Womanising professor David Kepesh (Kingsley), a celebrated Manhattan-based author, academic and reviewer, is acutely self-aware and correspondingly self-contained. But one student, Consuela Castillo (Cruz, a captivating force), instantly sweeps him away. Heartbreakingly beautiful and young, Consuela becomes Kepesh’s fixation and torment. Guileless and unafraid, she embraces their vitalising affair. But for such a compartmentalised, emotionally unassailable man, the depth of his feeling is supremely unnerving.
Disturbed by the decades between them — “Old age sneaks up on you,” he confides in voice-over, “[but] in my head, nothing has changed” — and fearful of what he sees as his eventual, inevitable loss of her, Kepesh contrives to push Consuela away. But there is always a price to be paid — for commitment or for the lack of it.
Director Isabel Coixet’s wistful, graceful film of Philip Roth’s 2001 short novel The Dying Animal is a slow surrender to regret and reparation. And as its centre of gravity, who finally learns to risk the chance to care, Kingsley is a lonely and imposing master of contradiction.