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RUNNING TIME 73 minutes (actually 83 but I’ll get to that)
• Trailers for other Lionsgate DVD releases
A depressingly beautiful emotional journey set at a holiday party in early 20th century Ireland.–
John Huston (director), Donal McCann, Anjelica Huston, Donal Donnelly, Helena Carroll, Cathleen Delany, Frank Patterson, Ingrid Craigie, Dan O’Herlihy–
The Dead takes places in early 20th century Dublin at a vibrant holiday feast. Gretta and Gabriel, a young couple, seem to share a comfortable life. But that night, a familiar voice recalls poignant memories and Gabriel learns of his wife’s unforgotten love.–
The Dead is the last movie by John Huston and it is based on the short story of the same name written by Irish novelist James Joyce.
The movie is set primarily in a large house in Dublin, Ireland at a holiday celebration thrown by two old spinsters (Helena Carroll as Aunt Kate and Cathleen Delany as Aunt Julia) and their niece Mary Jane (Ingrid Craigie), who seems to be on roughly the same path in life.
Throughout the evening things get rather tense over politics, religion, discussion of popular culture, and the drunkeness of a few guests. In other words it’s just like any family holiday gathering. But favored nephew Gabriel (Donal McCann) manages to hold the peace fairly well, though his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston) spends the entire time looking increasingly upset about something.
As the night finally pulls to a close I begin to wonder why Anjelica Huston was cast in this movie. Her character is meant to be rather frail, mousy, and constantly fussed over by Gabriel. This is of course laughable because Anjelica Huston is tall and looks anything but frail. I was thinking this was some Sofia Coppola level nepotistic miscasting (for those who don’t know, John Huston was Anjelica’s father) but as Gabriel prepares to leave the party and goes to find her he sees her standing on the staircase listening to Mr. D’Arcy (Frank Patterson) singing a very sad song. As their eyes meet, Gabriel sees that Gretta is crying.
After a long awkward cab ride to the hotel they are staying at, Gretta finally tells that the holidays always remind her of a boy she knew when she was younger who was very much in love with her, he would sing the song Mr. D’Arcy sang for her and how he died at 17 and it was most likely because of her.
Gretta cries herself to sleep and Gabriel goes to the window where he recites a complete 5-minute section of the rest of the story in internal monologue ruminating about the meaning of life, death, love, and everything else. At this point we are really only treated to alternate shots of his face and snow falling. The film ends on a strangely depressing yet hopeful tone as the credits roll.
I guess that might seem a little spoilerish to some of you, even though I left a lot of details out, but The Dead isn’t really about story or plot and especially not about action. This story was long considered unfilmable and with good reason: it’s a series of scenes strung together on a loose narrative and our main characters (particularly Gretta) barely do anything until the movie is almost over.
Rather than relying on plotting and story, the film relies on emotion. Each scene is pregnant with a range of powerful, and often conflicting, emotions. No scene of levity comes without an air of something uncomfortable, no scene of happiness comes without a bit of sadness, this movie gets under your skin and wrings every bit of emotion out of you it can. That’s why it is amazing.
This was apparently a long dreamed of project for John Huston and I can only imagine that the film’s themes were uncomfortably appropriate for a man who was literally dying as he directed the film from a wheelchair hooked up to an oxygen tank with paramedics standing by.
Now if you skipped ahead to the bottom you’re probably wondering why I gave this movie I gushed over anything less than a 5 out of 5. While I do love the movie, and feel that it’s perfect in every way and one of the few movies I’ve seen in my life that I would change absolutely nothing about, I am reviewing a DVD. The movie is one of the greatest I have ever seen, but the DVD. . . not so much.
This is your typical “dumped onto a disc” by Lionsgate affair. Honestly I was surprised it didn’t have “CD-R” on the disc in lieu of the title to the movie. Special features are non-existent, the re-mastering of the film is dubious at best and seems to have been spliced together from several different copies of the film, and they cut out ten minutes of the movie for no good reason.
I know there’s a lot of movies that have different cuts and edits but this isn’t Machete Nymphos on Blood Island 3, there aren’t any other cuts of this movie except for the original 83 minute cut. Lionsgate just randomly cut out 10 minutes of rather integral introduction for no reason.
They did apparently “recall” the disc later on (all the articles I’m finding are dated for 2009 so I don’t know how long this copy has been sitting around before it got sent my way) but they claimed it was a mistake and offered to trade in the inferior copies for new 83 minute versions providing you still have a receipt.
I question if the “mistake” on Lionsgate’s part was intentional or not but at least they fixed it and Amazon does list the DVD release as the appropriate 83 minutes. Still, it’s a bare-bones disc of a movie that really deserves the Criterion treatment so I’m not going to be terribly kind here.–
Out of a Possible 5 Stars