Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Dead (1987)

Judith Bruder recommends this film and writes us: "The Dead is arguably James Joyce's greatest story, and the film may be John Huston's greatest achievement. (It certainly is his last, as he was dying when he made it). It is simply perfection: the cinematography, the sets, the acting (including Huston's daughter Anjelica), the remarkable adaptation done by Tony Huston, his son.  If God is in the details, The Dead is surely touched by God. It is the slow accumulation of tiny details which opens out in the end to the sweep and meaning of whole lives.

The film is about death and dying, and what it means to live, really live. We come to realize that the passionate dead may remain alive in a way that some of the living breathing characters, most notably Gabriel (a tone-perfect performance by Donal McCann), are not, and perhaps never were. It is also about the inevitable fading that comes with age, even to the most passionate, like Aunt Julia, so in love with music and song.

Unlike current American determination to be young and beautiful forever, the Japanese aesthetic prizes most highly the quality of aware, ephemerality. It is precisely the fact that something will vanish that makes it both beautiful and poignant, hence the Japanese love of  cherry blossoms, for instance. This is the beauty we glimpse in The Dead.

In the end, the snow softly falls, it is late at night, his wife, exhausted, sleeps, and Gabriel's murmured soliloquy ends the film: "Yes, the newspapers were right; snow was general all over Ireland....
"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

New York Times Review by Vincent Canby from 1987.

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