Saturday, December 17, 2011

12 Days of Holiday Movies: Day 9

This morning when I woke up, it was still dark out and, as I suspected would happen based on my drive home from the track meet at a little past midnight, the first measurable snow of the holiday season had fallen. Though it was only what amounted to a half inch or so, there it was softly glowing under the street lights. The first snowfall of winter, or more to the point, the apparent magic of it,  often brings me back to a particular short story by Irish writer James Joyce from his collection The Dubliners, and by extension to the 1987 film adaptation of the same story by John Huston, James Joyce's The Dead.

The year 1987 was my first as a college undergraduate, and, like many, home from my first semester in December, I felt a sense of invincibility and wonder. I had left home for the first time for an extended period of time, and had been experiencing my first taste of "adulthood." This of course is code for being able to make all the dumb mistakes that first year college students do, and being able to quickly dismiss them as "no big deal" with little comprehension of what things really meant.

While on break, my brother and I went to a small local art house to see The Dead. I was armed with one World Literature course (and the powerful understanding of the literary term "epiphany"), so, of course, I was an expert in artsy fartsy books and movies. So away we went. For all I really knew the time, The Dead could very well have been a Victorian era zombie movie, but what I experienced that evening (and much more powerfully so in later viewings) was a moving meditation on insecurity, nostalgia and love.

IMDB describes the film thusly: "Gabriel Conroy and wife Greta attend a Christmas dinner with friends at the home of his spinster aunts, an evening which results in an epiphany for both of them," and despite the seemingly dry set-up its the actors and director Huston who turn the subject matter into compelling viewing. The lead actors, Angelica Huston (Greta Conroy) and Donal McCann (Gabriel Conroy) bring to life the two "literate" characters with performances that are both celebratory (the dinner party) and meloncholy ( Michael Furey's ultimately final romantic gesture). This is also one of those rare films for which a trailer preview is unavailable for sharing via on Youtube, embedding having been "disabled upon request," but it can be seen here:

Those ready for a moving holiday film experience will not be dissappointed. For myself, rewatching the film over the years, its themes naturally grow more meaningful to me, just as the feelings at Christams time become grow more complex with each passing year...

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