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John Huston's last film is a labor of love at several levels: an adaptation of perhaps one of the greatest pieces of English-language literature by one of Huston's favorite authors, James Joyce; a love letter to the land of his ancestors and the country where his children grew up; and the chance to work with his screenwriter son Tony and his actress daughter Anjelica. The film is delicate and unhurried, detailing an early January dinner at the house of two spinster musician sisters and their niece in turn-of-the-century Ireland, attended by friends and family. Among the visiting attendees are the sisters' nephew Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta. The evening's reminiscences bring up melancholy memories for Gretta concerning her first, long-lost love when she was a girl in rural Galway. Her recounting of this tragic love to Gabriel brings him to an epiphany: he learns the difference between mere existence and living. The all-Irish cast and careful period detail give the piece richness... Written by
Russ W. <email@example.com>
The character Mr. Grace does not appear in Joyce's original story. He is an invention of John and Tony Huston's, and was chiefly included so as to permit a reading of the eighth-century Irish poem Donal Og ("Young Donal"). Although it represents a departure from Joyce's text, the poem is nonetheless appropriate to the story's themes: like the song "The Lass of Aughrim" that follows it, "Donal Og" deals with the suffering that love can bring to young women...just as it has for Gretta. See more »
So many literary adaptations are disappointments. There are many reasons for that, but usually it is the need to cut down a complex novel to the size of a screenplay. The Dead is unusual - it had to be 'padded', as the short story itself is a tiny, relatively short gem. It may in fact be the finest short story in the English language. In beautifully spare language it tells of the realization of Gabriel Conroy that his life, and the lives of so many around him are controlled by memories of the dead. Even his own wife of many years loved a man now dead more than him.
To bring such a short story to the cinema was always going to be tricky. John Huston did a magnificent job. He never gave in to temptation to play it up or use fancy technique to expand on the story. It is simple and true, with outstanding acting. The only slight miss-step is the use of music to accompany the devastating final soliloquy.
Its rare indeed for a movie version of a literary masterpiece to be itself a masterpiece, but I think its fair to use this term for this movie. Its not a bravura piece of film making, but it is simple and pure - I always think of Ozu's movies when i think of The Dead, its at that level of purity and simplicity and deep wisdom.
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