Elvis and Priscilla in the eyes of each other

Contributing Writer Audree Melekyan compares the 2022 biopic “Elvis” and the 2023 memoir-adapted “Priscilla” to examine both Elvis’ influence on the music world and his tumultuous personal relationships, creating a more whole image of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Elvis and Priscilla in the eyes of each other
Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for “Elvis” (2022) and “Priscilla” (2023)

Born to be a star, Elvis was absolutely adored by fans from all over the world. Long before earning the title of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, young Elvis grew up on the poorer side of town in Tupelo, Mississippi, where he picked up the spunk of African rhythms and intertwined them with white country music. 

After moving to Memphis in his teens, Presley was ridiculed for gravitating towards Beale Street, better known as the birthplace of Blues. Presley idolized everything about Beale Street’s music, style, and musicians so much so that it caused arguments and riots about him breaking segregation laws. The instrumentals behind his music and the liquid moves that fans quickly became addicted to caused immediate attempts to regulate his music on television or radio. 

“Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler, is the story of Presley narrated through the perspective of Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who many consider the reason for Presley’s downfall and his untimely death. An unexpected aspect, but a beneficial addition to the film, was the way “Elvis” illustrated the racism Black people faced, highlighting the unjust events that took place during the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. Elvis’ devotion to his career resulted in constant pushback, but he was determined to keep his music in line with what he wanted instead of pleasing audiences and being the clean-cut American boy the music industry forced him to be. 

On the flip side is the film “Priscilla,” written and directed by Sofia Coppola, which tells a tale unknown to many about the courting of Priscilla and her unstable marriage to Elvis. In 1959, 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu was introduced to 24-year-old Elvis Presley in Germany while he served in the war. Struggling with the move to a new country and adjusting to a new school, Priscilla was thrilled when Elvis took interest in her, not expecting that her world was about to turn upside down. 

Cailee Spaeny portrayed Priscilla’s innocent and sweet demeanor perfectly through the simplicity of her looks and shy personality. Falling prey to Elvis’ fast life caused her life to become one she didn’t recognize. As young and impressionable as she was, Elvis suppressed her agency by controlling her image with bold makeup and dresses he thought she would look better in. While young Priscilla seemed to be living what most considered the dream life, she understood that she would forever remain in Elvis’ shadow, eventually deciding that the groupie lifestyle just wasn’t for her no matter how devoted she was to him. Though she loved him endlessly, she knew that she didn’t have anything more to give him and couldn’t stay in an unfulfilling marriage. 

While the two led seemingly contrasting lives, there are more similarities than what meets the eye. Presley’s life picked up incredibly fast due to his looks and charm, divulging his extroverted personality early on compared to Priscilla’s timid, introverted one. Initially, there was much worry that came from Elvis and Priscilla’s mothers, and though for different reasons, they were scared of their children ultimately losing themselves. Young and naive Elvis and Priscilla never considered that their mothers’ intuitions shouldn’t have been taken so lightly. Elvis persuading his mother to allow him to pursue his career resulted in him losing control of himself to personal greed and people leeching off of him. Meanwhile, Priscilla convincing her mother to let Elvis court her led to her living a life of uncertainty and watching the man she loved become addicted to pills and have affairs with other women. 

Olivia DeJonge played Priscilla in “Elvis,” but she failed to capture how young Priscilla truly was when she met Elvis. DeJonge was more comfortable, open, and flirty than the way Spaeny portrayed her in “Priscilla.” Alongside that, “Priscilla” gave a more thorough and accurate representation of how they met at a party in his home when stationed in Germany, but this was not shown in “Elvis.” By this point, his career had already picked up, and there was a plethora of girls surrounding him. Yet, in both movies, there is a clear look of intrigue and fascination in his eyes while complimenting her during their intimate discussion about music. 

Delving deeper into their relationship, there is a slow burn leading up to their not-so-perfect marriage in “Priscilla” and the added fear when she found out she was pregnant, unlike in “Elvis,” where they were just enjoyable blips in his life. In “Elvis,” Priscilla is shown as loved and given endless attention in return for her being Elvis’ backbone on tour, but in “Priscilla,” another side of the story is brought to light as she was always left behind while he was on tour or called crazy and immature for her suspicions about his affairs towards the beginning of their relationship. A scene towards the end of “Elvis” shows him kissing multiple women in the audience; it was at that moment that we could visibly see Priscilla come to terms with how much Elvis loved being loved. However, in “Priscilla,” she realizes that no matter how much she loves him, it will never be enough to keep his eyes and heart from wandering. 

As Priscilla stood her ground when leaving Elvis in “Priscilla,” she calmly gathered herself and her belongings from Graceland; Elvis did not put up a fight when told the news. Contrastingly, in “Elvis,” Priscilla screams and throws his pills at him, angry and sad at the man she had loved and lost to his addiction and career. She gave him her life, and he pushed her to the point of no return. Priscilla explicitly stated her feelings in “Elvis” but left more unsaid in “Priscilla.” In the eyes of a man, a woman seems irrational and unreasonable for picking up and leaving out of nowhere, whereas in the eyes of a woman, she will give her all to be loyal to a man, but he will not notice until he has truly lost her. 

A small detail that didn’t go unrecognized was how Priscilla’s character developed and matured as she went from colorful dresses that showed the variety of styles in each era to wearing pants when she left Elvis. These pants are more than just a piece of fabric; they are a symbol of the person she has become and the foundation she is creating for her new chapter in life. From Elvis’ perspective, they would return to each other in the future, but Priscilla knew that she would never be coming back. She had nothing left to give, and love just wasn’t enough. 

Both films did an exceptional job of capturing the essence of each person individually and as partners. “Elvis” was flawlessly stitched together from the Colonel’s narration to clips of Elvis’ actual performances to the minuscule details capturing the decline in Elvis’ health. The film did not show much of his breakdowns or how bad their relationship got at times, but we can see these moments in “Priscilla.” “Priscilla” is the true definition of the phrase ‘written by a woman,’ as Coppola showed the best and worst sides of the famous singer. There was so much chemistry between the actors in the emotional ups and downs that Coppola’s direction clearly emphasized. Each film immersed me into the lives of an iconic couple, really demonstrating how even though they spent the majority of their lives together, their perspective on their relationship differed in the experience they got from loving each other.

Images courtesy of People, WFAA, and Military.com

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Hello everyone! My name is Audree and I am a transfer student majoring in Public Health with a Concentration in Medicine Sciences. I love the medical field and plan to be a surgical physician assistant. I enjoy music and writing on my free time. I am excited to be apart of The Guardian!
More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The UCSD Guardian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *