Dead, The (1987

The Dead (1987), directed by John Huston.

This was John Huston's last film. He was on an oxygen bottle and in a wheelchair and had the rest of the family working on the project. It's an adaption of a famous short story and, although not exciting in any ordinary sense, is beautifully done and quite moving at the end. The lighting or lenses or film stock give it an old-film look.

Dublin, January 6, 1904. A dinner party hosted by two old sisters for their friends and extended family. Dancing, singing, recitations, ample food and drink. A certain amount of flirting, politics and theological debate. And that's about it. Almost.

I recall the after dinner speech being very special in the text. They substitute something simpler here, but that's understandable. You can't stop a movie to read an essay aloud.

Donal Donnelly is particularly fine as the perpetually drunken Freddy. The Joyce estate chose him as the official audiobook reader for the books. You need an Irishman for that job.

For me, a powerful segment comes at the very end (some of this may be clearer in the text). A husband and wife ride a carriage back to their hotel. He's been thinking about her all evening, and plans on making love to her. (Their room is freezing cold; people were hardy back then). He is shocked to discover she has been thinking of someone else: of a boy who died for love of her when she was a girl. And what can he do about that?

The lesson I take: when we are very close to someone we like to think we are so attuned that we become mind-readers. But it's not true. We're always separate little worlds.


A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. 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.