‘Elvis’ movie: All Shook Up meets Heartbreak Hotel

By Rusty Wright

Elvis lives.  At least in the hearts of his fans, and they are everywhere.  Warner Bros.’ new Elvis movie extends the legacy.  Why does the raven-haired, swivel-hipped crooner still fascinate millions nearly 45 years after his death?

Hundreds of Elvis fan clubs have spanned the globe from Memphis to Moscow, Africa to Australia, Belgium to Brazil, Sweden to Sri Lanka.  Fandom is multigenerational, comprising not just his contemporaries; modest but noteworthy Elvis popularity exists among Millennials and Gen Z. 

Elvis’ cast includes Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) as Elvis, Oscar-winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) as Colonel Tom Parker, and Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley.

Always on my mind

Elvis Aaron Presley died on August 16, 1977, at 42.  His songs still fill airwaves.  His face graces postage stamps and velvet paintings worldwide.  Thousands trek to Graceland, his Memphis home, to pay homage to the King of Rock and Roll.

Impersonators abound.  The “Flying Elvi” (plural of “Elvis;” get it?) combine skydiving with Elvis nostalgia.  Merchants sell “Barbie Loves Elvis” doll sets, Elvis mouse pads, and Elvis wine.  There’s a “First Presleyterian Church.”

Even academics are into Elvis.  The University of Mississippi has held International Conferences on Elvis Presley.  Scholarly seminars included “Civil Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Elvis;” “Elvis: The Twinless Twins’ Search for Spiritual Meaning” (Elvis’ twin brother died at birth); and “Elvis ‘n’ Jesus.”

America.  What a country.

Stuck on you?

Many Graceland pilgrims display deep reverence with candlelight ceremonies, flowers and icons.  Some fans talk to Elvis.  One scholar at Mississippi’s International Conference noted that “without looking at spirituality, you can’t explain the Elvis phenomena.”

Do some have a psychological need to believe in Elvis?  A southern California M.D. wondered if fans may be bonding with a romanticized part of their youth.  And, he added, “People who don’t have God make a god out of all sorts of things.”

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Does the Elvis craze suggest deep human longings?  Some seek happiness through success, wealth or relationships. Probably everyone has at least one “Elvis” in their life: a person, idea, team, goal or possession that inspires their devotion and quest for fulfillment.

But human-based searches for ultimate happiness can be risky.  There will almost always be someone richer, more intelligent or articulate, better looking or more popular than we.  Our teams will lose; our heroes will have flaws.  Even if you reach the top…what then?  The death rate is still 100%. 

In the film, Elvis’ manager Col. Tom Parker reflects near the end of Elvis’ career, “We are the same, you and I.  We are two odd, lonely children, reaching for eternity.”  Elvis clearly portrays Christian faith’s impact on young Elvis, who at a tent revival meeting undergoes an ecstatic body-shaking spiritual experience that mimics – and possibly inspires – his adult stage performances.

He Touched Me

Probably few realize that Elvis’ only Grammy Awards came for “How Great Thou Art” and “He Touched Me,” famous faith songs.  The lyrics, which reflect his own spiritual roots, point to hope beyond human accomplishment. 

The biblical God alluded to in these songs is described elsewhere as a friend of those in need.  “The Lord is my shepherd,” wrote an Israeli king.  “I have all that I need.”

Spiritual matters, of course, can be controversial.  Respected universities like Duke, Harvard and Michigan study faith’s impact on health.  An increasing number of healthcare professionals emphasize “whole-person” care – seeking physical, psychological and spiritual health. 

Some counselors encourage their clients to get in touch with their “Inner Elvis.”  As the world commemorates the forty-fifth anniversary of his passing, perhaps it would be more fruitful to look beyond our “Inner Elvis” to Someone greater.

Elvis presents a fascinating glimpse into the star’s passions and times.  Like his life, the film is fast-moving, flamboyant, entertaining, permeated with pizazz and pain.

Rated PG-13 (USA) “for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking.”

https://elvis.warnerbros.com   In theaters June 24 (USA)  International releases (6 continents)

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents.  He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com

Copyright © 2022 Rusty Wright

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‘Elvis’ movie poster.
Elvis (Austin Butler) early in his career. Photo Credit: Hugh Stewart. Copyright © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Photo Credit: Hugh Stewart. Copyright © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Elvis (Austin Butler) and Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge). Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Little Richard (Alton Mason). Photo Credit: Kane Skennar. Copyright © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Elvis (Austin Butler). Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. Copyright © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.