observations and opinion
January 14, 2016
It is a week for mourning. Today, shockingly and at the same age as the just departed David Bowie, passes the magnificent Alan Rickman.
Alan Rickman was a gifted, emotional, intelligent actor who obtained worldwide fame and popular immortality as the darkly conflicted Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. What could have been a cartoon of villainy was, always with Rickman, a textured and unnerving portrayal of a man warring within himself. It was fine work. And for those who weren’t Potter fans, the conniving, cunningly evil thief “Hans” in the first “Die Hard” movie is another complex and memorable villain we owe to Alan Rickman. Or the faintly-unfaithful married man in “Love, Actually”, or…you choose.
For a small pocket of humanity, Alan Rickman will be best remembered simply as “Jamie” in the beguiling 1990 British comedy-drama “Truly Madly Deeply.” In the film – a romantic comedy that I inexplicably omitted from my earlier discussions of the genre – Jamie is not at first seen. And that is for a very good reason: he is dead.
What we see at first is Jamie’s widow, Nina – played by the sweet and utterly English Juliet Stevenson – immersed in a cavern of grief and pain. In my personal view, having seen too many movies in my lifetime, Stevenson’s depiction of grief is the best ever to be captured on film. It is raw yet dignified, plain yet complex, constrained in a typically English way but all the more agonizing. Jamie died suddenly, “of a sore throat” with no warning, with no goodbyes. In the months that have passed since, the widow Nina is utterly stuck in sadness. Nothing and no-one can reach her.
No-one, that is, except Jamie. And so he returns, from the dead, to their London flat. At first she understandably thinks it is a delusion, but that does not deter Nina from embracing Jamie and lighting up again at his presence. They re-live (re-enact is a better word, I suppose, when speaking of a ghost) some of the sweetest elements of their marriage. Their song, “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” is a highlight.
It sounds ridiculous and sentimental, which it is, but it’s also extremely funny. And touching. Rickman’s Jamie is a droll, mordant and irascible man. Although dead, he is still angry at Maggie Thatcher. Stuck in their flat all day while Nina works, Jamie begins to attract guests – other ghosts – who huddle around the television and crank the heat up (the dead never feel warm). Time passes and the couple is still deeply (and truly and madly) in love, but the impossibility of the situation makes itself clear. Ultimately, Nina recovers from her grief and when she’s ready for it, Jamie and his collection of ghostly friends depart the flat for the hereafter. It is a sad but beautiful ending for Jamie, a new start for Nina.
Was it all just Nina’s dream? Maybe, but Rickman makes his ghostly self so memorably funny, so wickedly witty and yet, so loving and tender to Nina, you wish you could have met Jamie. You might even wish you were a little more like him (except for the being dead part, that is).
Is there an afterlife? I suspect that not one living soul knows and if the dead souls do, they’re not disclosing their secret whereabouts. That’s why we have to live this life as best we can, realizing that unlike Jamie in “Truly Madly Deeply”, we probably aren’t getting a second act. All we can do is our best with our first act, as Alan Rickman so splendidly showed us.