Baz Luhrman’s Elvis: An Analysis


Madeline Martinez, Staff Writer

*Because this is a film analysis, readers should expect plot spoilers*

The $85 million budgeted critically acclaimed film, “ELVIS”, has brought on an unchained melody for many viewers around the world. Compared to other released films in 2022, Baz Luhrmann’s impeccable directing style seems to outshine them all. However, this piece is incredibly biased in Luhrmann’s favor.  

You may know the name Baz Luhrmann from his iconic films, “The Great Gatsby”, “Moulin Rouge!”, and “Romeo + Juliet”, or perhaps you’ve seen his name circling around TikTok. Luhrmann holds magic at his fingertips. Moreover, with this film being a biopic, it’s borderline insane how incapsulating it was for a nearly 3-hour film. Austin Butler, who played Elvis, was also nothing less than amazing. He did an insane job in method acting. Something that comes in close to Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight’ Let’s break it down.  


“While 10,000 screaming fans were cramming in to see our show, Senator Eastland was holding a segregationist rally just three miles away,” says Colonel Tom Parker, immediately setting the scene for the audience. The entire movie is from the Colonel’s perspective, intensively trying to explain he did not kill Elvis Presley.  

Fans cram into Russwood Park awaiting Elvis’ arrival, and Senator Eastland proclaiming his thoughts just three miles away. Elvis is anxious during this, but oddly calm in appearance. The Colonel assures Elvis not to acknowledge the cameras, they are purely “nothin’.” Colonel then asks for reassurance from the police chief, “Ain’t that right chief?” “As long as you don’t so much as wiggle a finger,” the chief responds, a stern look on his face.  

For some context, Elvis has been ridiculed over the last few months of his career for performing “vulgar” moves on what is seemingly supposed to be family friendly. He was nicknamed ‘Elvis the Pelvis’, this name being across mass newspapers. There have been many attempts since then to restrain him and continue his career, family show style. This was shown on the Steve Allen Show, Elvis being restrained in a tight tuxedo.  

Baz has a resourceful selection of song choices throughout this movie. While all this chaos of arriving at the stadium is occurring, “Strange Things Are Happening Every Day” by Sister Rosetta Tharpe (sung by Yola in the movie) is playing in in the background. The song is presented with an ominous twist that builds up this pressure. It’s also an incredible foreshadow into the following moments.  

Elvis, now on stage, the song and cheering subsiding, he waits a moment before speaking, listening to Eastland in the distance. “There’s been a lot of talk about the new Elvis,” Elvis begins. “And of course, that other guy,” Elvis wiggles his finger, lightly singing Hound Dog. “There’s a lot of people saying a lot of things,” Elvis says, referring to Eastland in the distance. “Of course, you gotta listen to the people that you love,” Elvis looks to the Colonel, “But in the end, you gotta listen to yourself,” the crowd cheers at this subtle revolt to the controversy. “So I want you to know, those New York people ain’t gonna change me none.” Elvis removes a guitar that he was given when first walking onto the stage. Walking by his band, he says, loud enough for only them to hear, “Trouble.” 

“[…] at his command, both civil and other, to maintain public order, and prevent crime and riots. He can use those forces to prevent the racial integration of schools, if this is necessary, under the police powers of that state… […] in fact, it is his duty… […] and prevent turmoil and strife within the state… […] the subversives who own, control and dominate the entertainment industry are determined to spreadAfricanized culture…,” Says Eastland in increments while Elvis is talking.  

“I’m going to show you what the real Elvis is like tonight!” Elvis yells into the mic, his arm going up ready to cue his band.  

“…influencing your children to accept the Negroes!” As Eastland finishes, Elvis tears his arm down, his band beginning with a short chord, Elvis beginning his song. Going back to Baz’s choice in songs, Trouble was perfect for this moment as Elvis sings If you’re lookin’ for trouble and My middle name is misery. 

The Colonel watches behind the stage, his eyes looking full of worry. The song begins and everyone seems astonished at what they are witnessing. Many have come to find Elvis repulsive due to his dance moves, the controversy really taking flight when he performed ‘Hound Dog’ on The Milton Berle Show (click here for movie version).  

Elvis begins to interact with the crowd after But if you’re gonna start a rumble don’t you try it on your own! He, to keep this paper family friendly, is anything but. He specifically interacts with the ladies, fixated on him.  

In a short while after his interactions, he is still singing as the scene switches to fans being beaten with batons by the police, seeming to give a feeling that no one should be supporting Elvis. The crowd is getting rowdy, and this seems to de-rail the process of making Elvis into something he is not, while also encouraging him on stage.   

Trouble was clearly chosen as the performing song for a metaphor of something. Whether it was really performed at Russwood or what Baz’s intentions of this scene was is left to him, the internet, and the audience. This scene was phenomenal for its placement within in the movie and everything that leads up to this moment. Things like the controversy, Elvis’ first performance, even some drama with the Colonel, it was a truly incredible pick.  

If I Can Dream 

Elvis was never known for being involved in politics. At least staying far from addressing them. When Elvis walked out on stage during the middle of his ‘68 Comeback Show in a white suit, red bowtie, and began passionately singing a song he mocked up hours before in response to Senator Bobby Kennedy being shot, it was then when the audience, nearly 2 hours in, had seen Elvis in his full capacity as a star.  

The ‘68 Comeback Special in and of itself is a very interesting and enthralling part of the movie which would only be a crime to take the satisfaction of watching it from you. Steve Binder, someone who helped Elvis create the special, tells Elvis, “You have to make a statement E.P.” Binder says this while in tears, a true and sincere tone within every word. He was previously explaining how they cannot keep on with the show if this is not addressed. Elvis writes ‘If I Can Dream’ in the same night, rehearsing it on the floor, the camera slowly twirling out.  

A winter wonderland is shown, people dancing across a white stage. The Colonel was oblivious to what Binder and Elvis had planned. He looked up at the screens in the control room, exclaiming “Oh, hey! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” He turns to Binder, “You and I are on the same page at last.” 

“Bring up the lights on the sign,” Binder says, a truly disgusted and luring look behind his eyes. The instrumental to the song is heard in the background, progressively getting louder, building up to the moment. The scene cuts to Elvis walking across the stage and in front of the winter wonderland. A camera is being shown, twirling to face the now suited Elvis. And then… it begins. Passion is truly ripping through each frame that is captured on camera. The movements exactly executed just like the original. Pricilla, Elvis’ wife, is shown walking behind the windows to the control room. Binder looks back at Pricilla, a non-verbal thank you is seemed to have been given to Binder from Pricilla. 

The camera pans out and is filled with a collage of articles with Elvis on the front. They say “Elvis is back!” “Elvis Sings Protest Song!” “Elvis Still an Idol!” and more.  

The song ends, quickly shanking back to a shot of the Colonel. “I always said,” the Colonel begins, “when it came to music, my boy knows best. But the special was my idea. It was a tremendous hit. We was back on top. But some people were putting ideas into his head that he didn’t need me no more.” This sets a feeling for the rest of the movie. The downfall starts here, and there seems to be no break in sight.  

This part of the movie was truly a breaking point and a mood setter for the rest of the movie. Elvis, this sensitive, sympathetic man was taking a stand for the nation. For himself. Baz captured the disdain in Butler’s eyes, and Butler was the one to take that emotion and give it to the audience in all of its glory. Truly, in words that cannot possibly do the scene justice, masterful.  


Unchained Melody 

“You know, a few weeks before he died, I saw him sing for the very last time. He could barley stand up,” the Colonel says, showing the stage where Elvis would be performing for the last time.  

“’Unchained Melody’. From an album called Unchained Melody. Makes a lot of sense. Okay,” Elvis heaved out. He looked disheveled, sweaty, sick. 

“But that night, he sand as he always did. With all his heart and soul,” the Colonel finishes.  

“How you like it so far?” Elvis yells out, fans cheering.  

“That old voice rang out, and he sang with all his life,” the Colonel says at last, taking breaths into the last three words.  

“Oh, my love…” The song begins. All that can be heard is Elvis’ voice. The stage is shown from different angles, but the only thing that has the audience’s attention is Elvis sining, just as the Colonel had described.  

A chorus is heard behind Elvis’ “Time…” sending a bass throughout the speakers. It’s truly unexplainable, the feeling.  

“Are you still mine?” Elvis sings, the camera finally on Butler’s face showing the layer of sweat on his face, his hair sticking to his forehead, and the weight he had gained in just a matter of months.  

Just like the original, the camera shows the multitude of glances Elvis gives the crowd, and the few he gave to the camera. At one point, he looks directly into the camera, giving a grin.  

“I’ll be comin’ home, wait for me…” The scene cuts to young Elvis, shown in the first quarter of the movie when explaining Elvis’ life. The screen then cuts to the real Elvis, not Butler, singing ‘Unchained Melody’ in his last performance.  

Perhaps Baz showed young Elvis to show the growth. His beginning of being a little kid you who dreamed of becoming a superhero to save his dad from prison. This shaky, nervous, anxiety filled artist who didn’t know where to begin. Baz showing the real Elvis seemed to bring forth an emotion of reality. That this did happen, a real story, of a real man. It was like heart palpitations. The feeling is unexplained and you’re not exactly sure where it came from, but it’s there, and you feel it.  

“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed has come true a hundred times. […] I learned very early in life that, “Without a song, the day would never end, without a song, a man ain’t got a friend, without a song, the world would’ve never been, without a song.” This was the last dialogue given from Elvis, both Butler and real, in the movie. Pictures and videos were being shown of Elvis as he talked, Unchained Melody still being sung lightly in the background. The song ends after this speech, showing Elvis once more, then showing the millions od fans he had accumulated over the span of his career.  

Unchained Melody is one of those songs that is unexplainably sad, real, and loveable. It compacts so many emotions, especially in the way that Elvis sang it and the way Baz presented it in the movie. The scenes before this, Elvis was leaving Pricilla and his daughter, Lisa-Marie. They were finalizing their divorce.  


This movie was truly a dream. Sitting in a theater, the surround sound, not missing a beat, watching the action unravel on the screen, was nothing less than exceptional. Baz is an incredible director. His production style is unmatched. The way he includes these exocentric shots of CGI, editing, and elaborate shots of the characters showed a diversity in his style. The same thing was shown in Romeo and Juliet. If you can remember the opening of that movie, Sampson, Gregory, and Benvolio are seen in a yellow car, cruising down the road, Gregory yelling “A dog of the house of Montague moves me!” Maybe you remember when they arrived at the gas station and cameras switching to each character. Don’t forget about the small detail of SWORD 9mm Series S on Benvolio’s gun. Phenomenal on Baz’ part.  

Elvis can be streamed on HBOMAX with a subscription and on Hulu with a premium subscription as well as YouTube, Redbox, Google Play Movies & TV, and Apple TV for $5.99 and on Vudu for $9.99.