‘The King’ review: Unique biography of Elvis Presley

There’s a moment in “The King,” the new documentary from Eugene Jarecki, where the veteran filmmaker admits that he has …

The King

Documentary directed by Eugene Jarecki

Rated R

Playing at IFC Center and Landmark at 57 West

There’s a moment in “The King,” the new documentary from Eugene Jarecki, where the veteran filmmaker admits that he has no real idea what he’s trying to do with the movie. It’s a thrilling bit of introspection that also speaks to the quality that makes this such a special experience.

The film is an essay in cinematic form, a journey without a clear destination, a biographical study that achieves the noteworthy result of contextualizing one of the most famous and well-documented American lives in an entirely new and relevant way.

Jarecki drives around the South and other locations that played a big role in Elvis Presley’s life, in the icon’s 1963 Rolls-Royce. He welcomes musicians who perform in its backseat, interviews residents of the icon’s hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi, and elsewhere.

He mixes in a wealth of historical footage and lovely scenery, too, and comes away with an impressionistic epic that uses the story of the man who has come to be seen as synonymous with the U.S. itself as representative of nothing short of the American soul in its most complex and contradictory form.

Robert Levin