Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Dead

By Aussiegirl

Having just watched "The Dead" on one of my movie channels, I was struck again at the beauty and mastery of this last effort of that great director, John Huston. He had always wanted to make a film of this James Joyce classic, the final story in the collection of short stories entitled "The Dubliners".

The movie never fails to leave a deep impression, and like all great films one notices new and previously overlooked touches. Angelica Huston had the lifelong dream of working with her father and the rest of the impeccable cast are brilliant and touching. One really never gets the sense that these are actors, instead we feel that we too, have been invited to spend post a holiday dinner with the two Morkan sisters, the musical grande dames of Dublin.

What starts as a charming and enchanting evocation of times long past progresses through the evening of dancing, singing and reciting into a chain of memories of long past events which leaves each guest idling in the kind of nostalgic aura that holidays seem to bring on in each of us. At the conclusion of the evening, Greta Conroy, played by Angelica Huston, overhears a sweet tenor singing an old Irish ballad, "The Lass of Aughrim" which plunges her into her own distant and overpowering memory. As she relates to her husband, back in their hotel room, the story of her first passionate love of a young, doomed boy named Michael Fury, he is struck at his own sense of helplessness in the face of such a powerful emotion, and gazing out the window he utters the immortal words of the final monologue, surely one of the finest passages in the English language:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
She stopped, choking with sobs, and,
overcome by emotion, flung herself face downward on the bed, sobbing in the quilt. Gabriel held her hand for a moment longer, irresolutely, and then, shy of intruding on her grief, let it fall gently and walked quietly to the window.

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt's supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

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.

Read the original story

Read the reviews in the Internet Movie Database

Visit the James Joyce House website and learn about the house belonging to his aunts, where fondly remembered holiday parties became Joyce's inspiration for this story.


At 7:22 PM, Blogger Timothy Birdnow said...

Sounds really good-I`ll have to see it!


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