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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat


The Dead
Directed by John Huston
Lions Gate 1988 DVD/VHS Feature Film

This is director John Huston’s last film. The movie is based on the concluding tale in The Dubliners, a collection of short stories by James Joyce. Set on January 6, 1904, the drama focuses on a party held by two elderly aunts and their niece for family and friends. It is a very civilized gathering with music, dancing, and entertainment provided by the talented guests themselves.

Among those in attendance are Gretta (Anjelica Huston) and her intellectual husband Gabriel (Donel McCann) who carves the goose at dinner and delivers a speech. At the end of the evening as she is on her way out the door, Gretta pauses on the stairs to listen as one of the guest sings “The Lass of Aughrim.” Later, at the hotel, she tells her husband of a long-ago romance and its tragic demise. This confession triggers in Gabriel a realization of his failings as a lover. Gazing at the snow falling outside the window, his thoughts turn to death. He vows to change his life: “Better to pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, that fade and wither dismally with age.”

John Huston has treated this literary classic with the same loving care he gave to The Red Badge of Courage(1950), Moby Dick(1956), Wise Blood(1980), and Under the Volcano(1984). The screenplay by Tony Huston, the ensemble acting by the cast of Irish actors and actresses, the music — everything about The Dead is exquisite. This screen translation of Joyce's story celebrates the beauty of the English language, the pleasures of holiday fellowship, the challenges of marital love, and the intimations of mortality which can bring us back to an exultation of life.


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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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