Films like Rocket Man and Bohemian Rhapsody have been cropping in recent years, treating movie-goers to a behind-the-scenes interpretation of music icons like Freddy Mercury, Elton John, and of course most recently – Elvis Presley.
It’s a subversive narrative that almost entirely contradicts whatever the audience is shown on-screen. It acts like a direct reflection of the mental gymnastics narcissists put themselves through to make events fit within their own distorted view of the world.
The narration is a multi-tiered literary technique that doesn’t just tell a single story – it tells several. It tells the story of how Elvis became The King; the epic of how a skinny kid with stage fright conquered his fears. It’s the tragic saga of a poor boy who just wanted to do right by his family, and got manipulated, drained, and worked to death on the way.
**If you haven’t seen the film yet, this is your chance to go and see Elvis, but this article will attempt to remain as spoiler free as possible**
The Other Side of the Narrative Coin
Told from the perspective of his so-called partner, friend, and agent Colonel Tom Parker, and portrayed by Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, the voice-over in Elvis follows the finely manicured narrative of a twisted narcissistic talent manager trying to rewrite a story that’s barely known to begin with.
Opening on what appears to be Parker’s deathbed confession, Tom Hanks’ voice-over opens with the film itself, spinning a narrative as twisted, tangled, and manipulated as Elvis’ hairdo. Presenting “his” story to the audience as if offering them a hot-take in his defense, the narration Colonel Parker gives us is a virtual crash course to the mind of a narcissist. It stretches truth so far it snaps without breaking, leaving a limp and loose rubber band that any obtuse lie could fit through. He’s the bad guy, and deep down, somewhere underneath all of the sedimentary layers of lies he tells himself, he knows it – maybe.
Colonel Parker is an Unreliable Narrator
He’s not just an unreliable narrator, but a parasite that enjoys a good con and a golden meal ticket. Willing to do whatever it takes to maintain control over the world around him, Colonel Parker is an abusive manipulator with loyalties to no one but himself; and his narrative reflects that.
In fact, Colonel Parker’s entire narration sounds like a love letter to denial right until the bitter, lonely end.
The Narration is Parker Actively Lying to Himself
Whether committing to conning the audience or genuinely believing his own account of events, Colonel Parker is so unreliable of a narrator that the only thing we can take seriously from him is that he doesn’t understand music.
He even goes so far as to mention that’s what his “sideshow” is for – he just gets the contracts and money. What’s interesting about Parker’s method of manipulation is that when conning others, he uses truth to box them into a narrative corner, but when he needs to convince himself, he flat-out lies – hence the narrative we hear.
His Actions Contradict his Narrative
The film plays like someone trying to whisper a lie in your ear while watching them do the very thing they’re lying about. Parker’s narration actively attempts to defy his actions; no matter how reconcilable they are.
When Elvis’ career begins to flop because of Parker’s influence, the narrative we’re given somehow attempts to present it as the singer’s fault; and in a sad roundabout way, laden with deceit and victimhood, it is – but only because Elvis trusted Colonel Parker in the first place.
Whenever something falls through, causes trouble, or gnaws at Elvis’ mental health, it’s never the Colonel’s fault – it’s always everyone else. Even as we watch Elvis collapse five minutes before a show and get injected with uppers at Parker’s behest, his narration maintains that it was vitamins and rest.
The Narrator is Manipulating the Story – and the People in it
He’s confused, perplexed, and hurt whenever Elvis doesn’t listen to him or defies him.
Every time Elvis follows his own heart or makes up his own mind, we see (and hear) Parker’s control is threatened. Each time, and if only for a brief moment, his facade cracks and we see the scary truth of who he is, wrestling for control of the story, and the people in it.
Parker calls Elvis his “dear boy” and speaks about him affectionately to the audience – even veils his manipulations as having Elvis’ best interests at heart, but we see the truth contrasted on-screen. His actions reveal him to be more of a parasite than a manager or friend; he only worries for the host when the host is at risk of not supplying him with blood to suck.
Time and time again, he tries to convince us throughout the film that he’s looking out for Elvis’ best interests – even while we’re simultaneously witnessing the opposite. It seems like a narrative he’s almost trying to convince himself of rather than the audience in a desperate attempt to rewrite history. Whatever he actually believes, he sticks to his version of the narrative right up until the very end of the movie – and his own life.
Awards, Accolades, and Fun Facts
While Hanks is most famously known for his role as Forrest Gump, among countless other films of critical acclaim, he’s no stranger to the voice-over world. Even though his most enduring performance as a voiceover actor is Woody from Toy Story, he played a crucial role in the Polar Express, having voiced six different characters in the movie.
Tom Hanks also won back-to-back academy awards in 1993 and 1994 for his roles in Forrest Gump and Philadelphia.
While it’s still way too early in the season to mention any Academy Awards, 2022’s Elvis has people’s temperature rising at the tragic magic ride that was the life and career of the eternal King, Elvis Aron Presley.
So far, the film has managed to garner three HCA nominations and one win that saw Austin Butler take home the award for Best Actor, but this isn’t the last we’ve heard from the critically acclaimed masterpiece of music history.
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, and narration coach. Among her 20K+ completed narrations, you have heard her on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House and the Smithsonian.