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The Dead (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on December 8, 2013

One of the few holiday-appropriate films I own.  And it gets better with every viewing.  I have a hard time explaining the power this film has over me.  It seems to encapsulate so much of life (and death) in the smallest and subtlest of ways.  It’s so simple in its construction, with such a gentle touch in its execution, but it has a way of working into your bones.  It is bittersweet but not in the way one normally thinks of bittersweet things.  Somehow — and I realize I’m using frustratingly vague terms — it manages to be simultaneously warm and melancholy.  One moment you’re touched by these wonderful characters (every performance a gem) and the next you’re keenly aware of a dark undercurrent… the lingering shadow of death and the dead, or a tension that is left unspoken, a heart unfulfilled.  And the entire party seems to take on so many different shades when you know what’s coming at the end.

This time — my third — was a little different in that I have now actually read the James Joyce story it is based on.  I see a little bit how critics can complain that the movie doesn’t capture the essence of Joyce.  But it is beautiful in its own way, what John Huston has done with such lovely material.  The final words are heartachingly gorgeous, and certainly are not quite the same when rendered as Gabriel’s internal monologue.  But I think Huston makes the best of a difficult translation to the screen.  It would be a sin not to have such evocative language in the film, and the alternative would be an outside narrator, which would seem quite wrong indeed.  Donal McCann’s reading of it is magnificent, and to me it has just as much power as the story, if not quite the same kind of power.  I am just glad that both the story and the film exist.  I see myself watching this many more times in my life.  Rating: Masterpiece (96)

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