The Siren starts by admitting that she rented Truly, Madly, Deeply some twenty-odd years ago only because she had a raging crush on the late Alan Rickman. (How the Siren hates having to put “the late” in front of that name.) She’d flipped for him, like most of the women and a good many men in the film-watching world, in Die Hard. That lean face, that lustrous voice, that walk that made you yearn to see him cross a room, headed straight for you. OK, he was playing an armed robber, and a notably ruthless one at that. But he was the biggest dose of dangerous cinematic swoon since the likes of Basil Rathbone (to whom Rickman was often compared).
The Siren’s father had died not long before she saw Truly, Madly, Deeply. So, inevitably, the movie wrecked her. The Siren’s beloved, movie-watching mother died suddenly in November, and at the moment, it’s an effort to revisit this film even in memory. But the Siren's going to do it anyway.
The story concerns a London-based translator, Nina, played by Rickman’s lifelong friend Juliet Stevenson, for whom director Anthony Minghella wrote the part. Her lover Jamie (Rickman) died some months earlier. He woke up one morning with a sore throat, and within days, he was gone. Now Nina is trying to get on with it, but in most ways, she can’t. She's a blubbering mess every time she sees the shrink. She has a new flat, but she hears Jamie’s voice echoing through it.
Then one day Nina is playing a Bach sonata on the piano, one that she and Jamie used to play together. A note from a cello sounds, and slowly the camera moves to show you that Jamie is there, playing his old instrument. At first it’s hard to tell whether the camera is showing us Nina’s daydream. And then she turns, and together with Nina you realize, no. He’s there.
The Siren often dreams about the people she’s lost. In these dreams, she always knows that her father and mother are dead, yet somehow they are back, and she accepts it in the way a dream makes you accept everything. There’s no big reunion, seldom even any discussion. The emotions come when the dream is over. When Nina turns and sees Jamie, she embraces him, weeping so hard she can scarcely see, clutching to make sure this is him, this is his body. That moment has everything the Siren would feel if she found her parents when she awoke, if she could say, “You’ve come back to me.” She would weep and clutch at them the same way. We all would.
Nina’s love has returned, and the movie traces the goofy joy that has come back with him. They play music, sing off-key serenades, talk, even make love. He stays for days, then weeks. Jamie is amusing, attentive, he’s always around. But he complains ceaselessly of feeling cold. He eats strange food. He fills the flat with pale, badly dressed friends from the afterlife who lounge around the TV, argue about whether to watch Annie Hall or Fitzcarraldo, and scatter crumbs all over everywhere. ''I don't know who these people are,'' Nina protests, to no avail. ''I don't even know what period they're from.''
And so Nina gradually recalls the things she pushed out of her memory when Jamie was still gone. He has a snobbish streak and a tendency to drone on about the Tories. He’s controlling, too. Even on loan from the hereafter, Jamie nags his girlfriend about how she brushes her teeth. He maxes out the thermostat and rearranges the furniture without asking. It isn’t that Jamie is secretly a jerk; he’s artistic and loving, and besides, all his rebukes and suggestions are uttered in that sinuous Rickman voice. But soon we realize that this scenario is wrong, that no matter how badly she wanted him back, Nina can’t be with Jamie anymore.
What isn’t as apparent, at least at first, is that Jamie hasn’t returned to comfort Nina. He’s here to show her how to do that herself. And then, he will leave.
The shot of Alan Rickman as Jamie, watching Nina through a window as she walks into what will be the rest of her life, is the Siren’s favorite in all his films. (And brother, the Siren has seen a lot of Rickman. That crush is still with her, and always will be). Rickman was never maudlin. He isn’t prompting the audience to pity Jamie or marvel at his sacrifice. In his face, and his wave, and when he turns back to his ghostly friends, Rickman plays the truth of this supernatural, impossible moment: Jamie still loves Nina, and from wherever he will spend eternity, he wants to know she is fully living while she’s alive.
Most of us believe art isn’t didactic, much less therapeutic. And yet there are movies like Truly, Madly, Deeply that tell us things, or perhaps affirm truths that we already know. That whatever plane the dead move to, no matter how cruelly or how soon, that is where they have to stay. That even if we could call them back, in a deeper sense, we couldn’t. When she first saw this film, the Siren thought of Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, and how the heroine Miranda faces the pitiless finality of death:
If I could call you up from the grave I would, she said, if I could see your ghost I would say, I believe…‘I believe,’ she said aloud. ‘Oh, let me see you once more.’ The room was silent, empty, the shade gone from it, struck away by the sudden violence of her rising and speaking aloud. She came to herself as if out of sleep. Oh no, that is not the way, I must never do that, she warned herself.
Anthony Minghella’s film makes the same point as Porter’s tragedy, only with comedy and hope. Surely the people who knew Minghella turned to Truly, Madly, Deeply after he died of a brain hemorrhage, age 54.
Alan Rickman, so precise and intelligent an actor, must have known Truly, Madly, Deeply was both catharsis and comfort. But it isn’t a good one to see when grief is fresh, or at least the Siren won't do that. After time has passed, and you’re trying to find your way forward, the film is beautifully and exactly right.
Maybe next year, Mr. Rickman.
I wish like Prof. Severus Snape Alan Rickman could have put a stopper in death. To say I adored him, he was a crush, is only part of it. He was such a fine actor of great variety, comedic, dramatic, roguish, romantic. A writer, director, graphic artist, we lost so much today. My heart weeps. Bowie was bad enough, this is almost intolerable.
This beautiful movie--such a smarter commentary on this particular dilemma than Minghella's later "The English Patient"--always reminded me of a song titled "The Unquiet Grave." Here's one version of the old folk song's lyrics:
Cold blows the wind to my true love,
And gently falls the rain.
I never had but one true love,
And in greenwood he lies slain.
I’ll do as much for my true love
As any a young girl may.
I’ll sit and mourn all on his grave
For twelve months and a day.
And when twelve months and a day had passed,
The ghost did rise and speak,
“Why do you sit all on my grave
And will not let me sleep?”
‘Tis I, ’tis I, thine own true love
That sits all on your grave
I ask one kiss from your sweet lips
And that is all that I crave.
My breast is cold as the clay;
My breath is earthly strong.
And if you kiss my cold, clay lips,
You’re days will not be long.
Go fetch me water from the desert sand
And blood from out the stone.
Go fetch me milk from a fair maid’s breast
That young man has never known
How oft on yonder grave, Sweetheart
Where we were wont to walk—
The fairest flower that I e’re saw
Has withered to a stalk.
When shall we meet again, sweetheart?
When shall we meet again?
When the oaken leaves that fall from the trees
Are green and spring up again,
It's bad enough that within a space of one-and-a-half months, I had to hear about five celebrity deaths - five people of whom I was a fan of. But the biggest shock was the news about Alan Rickman. I think it will be a while before I can watch a movie with him in it . . . without crying.
It has been quite some time since I visited your lovely blog. This post moved me and brought me to tears. I am a lover of all things British and Rickman is one of my favorites. However, I have not seen this movie and will now have to go watch it. Thank you and condolences on your losses.
The Siren is quite profound and "affirms truths you already know"
Rickman was the consummate actor and interpreter of hidden longing....as
evidenced in Sense and Sensibility.. must revisit Truly, but like Siren,
at another time when it will not smart the wound as much....
Thank you for your insightful words
Ah, still weeping 24 hours later, thanks to you. A huge loss, but, I will always have Col. Brandon and Prof. Snape. He was perfect, how I wish I'd had the chance to see him on stage.
When my father died, I found that he brought back my dead - my mother, my grandfather, my grandmother. They are all there behind my right shoulder and all I have to do is think about them and I feel them there. I can talk to them and sometimes, almost, find a response.
More friends and mentors have died since then and I think of them often. It is as if each of them had just walked out the door. But they will never return. Still, I talk to them from time to time, especially when something I know they'd appreciate comes into my life. By thinking of them then, I share it with their shades, my memory of who and what they were. "Oh, how he would enjoy this!"
Alan Rickman's work will continue to live even though he's gone. What we've lost, as an audience, is the work he would have done, the craft he would have honed even sharper. It hurts but the pain is a tribute to his work. All we can do now is what we can do for the dead, remember him well.
I must see "Truly, Madly, Deeply." My father died just over five years ago, and my mother died just over eight years ago. I do dream of them from time to time. About six other important family members and friends have died since 2003. Thank you for this post. I have missed seeing them. One of the hardest things about getting older is, the population of ghosts around one keeps getting larger. I loved Alan Rickman and will miss him. I think I'm finally ready for "Truly, Madly, Deeply."
At the precise moment Juliet Stevenson confirms he is there, he is 'alive', I gasped; then exploded in wracking sobs. I don't think I've been as profoundly affected by any single moment in any film before or since.
Hi gang, sorry I've been away - dealing with my own losses.
I'll try to visit more often.
The loss of a good person is always a tragedy. For me lately, it feels like they're piling on. I daren't speak of the living anymore without fingers being crossed, and seems like every so often, one of import will simply leave but still one of the quick, and it's like a death there, too. I'd been avoiding a lot of films and music that have meaning in my memories of certain people, planning on coming to terms soon. The list is uncomfortably growing.
M. Yo, nice to hear from you!
Shortly after reading your lovely tribute, I got the flu. To take my mind off my misery, I had a Rickman filmfest. When Juliet Stevenson turns and sees Jamie actually there in the flesh, her reaction made my tears flow, and they didn't stop for about two days, as I re-watched "Sense And Sensibility" and that short film with Emma Thompson about two former lovers having a disastrous lunch. I'm still working my way through many interviews. One particular gem I found is a clip of Benedict Cumberbatch on Jimmy Fallon's show, having a Rickman-Off. They take turns impersonating Rickman quoting lyrics from hip-hop songs. Cumberbatch is spot on, hilarious. Maybe everyone here already knows about this, but it is well worth watching, as is the follow-up where Alan Rickman is on the show and takes mock-umbrage, in his best menacing Snape Sneer, at them for doing it. And then I watched "Sense And Sensibility" yet again, remembering a lovely time I had with my dad in 1995, before dementia began to rob him of his mind and physical stamina. We drove out to the site of a former ranch-turned housing development, but we recognized the ancient oak tree that still stood at the entrance to this gated community. It was our first time there since about 1960. I needed to stop sobbing, so I found "Galaxy Quest" which I never saw and loved. So it goes.
Scrolling 4 things about Alan Rickman, that I perhaps hadn't seen before, I just came across this today, just now. I reread it three times. Profoundly beautiful. Thank you.
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