Getting Closer! The Film Version of Joyce’s The Dead (John Huston’s Masterpiece)

We’re closing in! For those of you following along, we’re only a few days away from the culmination of our Dubliners project. If you haven’t been reading the stories each day, don’t worry. This isn’t assigned reading; I don’t give out homework.

Except for one thing. This year, you must reserve some time for The Dead on Christmas Eve. THAT is required.

Well, just kidding, of course. No, it’s not required – just highly, highly encouraged. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m telling you, reading Joyce’s famous novella on Christmas Eve is as good as it gets. Up there with presents under the tree and It’s a Wonderful Life and my family’s great new tradition of buying a tree at the Home Depot parking lot* and then having lunch at Five Guys. (My kids are driving the Christmas train these days.)

But hey! There’s one tradition I get to keep for myself. It’s private and reflective and deeply enriching. And that’s reading The Dead on Christmas Eve.

We’ll get there! But for now, take a look at this video to whet your appetite. The Dead is not only a perfect story, it inspired a perfect movie, directed by John Huston (his last film). Only a genius director at the end of his career could have exercised the restraint necessary to make this film.

And here’s some commentary on the trailer.

Oh sure, it’s not Die Hard. But its quiet, devastating beauty are just as potent. So brew up a little Irish coffee, toss some more wood on the fire, and cozy up to this film.

That’s you this year: sitting under a big quilt with your special someone and/or those ghosts that chase us all and watching a beautiful film.

And then: keep reading the Dubliners, and we’ll all get to the story itself on Christmas Eve. Onward and upward!

* Part of the tradition: “Do you want some paper under this tree to protect the roof of your car?” says the man at the Home Depot. “Does anyone ever say no to that question?” I ask.


4 thoughts on “Getting Closer! The Film Version of Joyce’s The Dead (John Huston’s Masterpiece)

  1. Mr. Wilson, I just discovered your wonderful blog this morning. It’s great someone else watches “The Dead” each year, though for Christmas our favorite “A Christmas Carol” with George C. Scott.

    Below is a poem I wrote 5 years ago. As you’ll see, my Irish wife and I return to “The Dead” on the 6th of January, here in her family’s old stone farmhouse in County Limerick, where we retired in 2005. It will be even more touching this time as my 94-year-old father just became a shade on the 23rd of December.

    Long may Joyce’s and Huston’s masterpieces live on.

    Keep up your great work and Happy New Year.

    John Pinschmidt

    To Donal Donnelly

    BBCTV Scotland saved our too quiet New Years
    The bold Hogmanay bagpipes, drums, and fiddles, fireworks
    But best of all, minutes past 12, lead-crystaled champagne
    In our hands, Burns’ Auld Lang Syne, sung softly,
    More poignant each year on this night to look back,
    Remembering those we’ve lost, drinking not with, but to them.

    Scotland’s plowman poet is honoured again on 25 January,
    Burns Night, a feast of haggis and singlemalt, poetry and song.

    Joyce’s 1904 Dublin is celebrated on Bloomsday,
    And like Burns, there should be a Joyce Night too.

    Each 6th of January it unfolds quietly in front of the fire in our
    Old kitchen, Muscadet for her, single malt for me as we feast on
    John Huston’s last masterpiece, The Dead, set on this night.

    Huston died before it was released. His swan song is Joyce’s
    Dublin dinner party on Usher’s Island, where not much seems
    To happen beyond their petty, separate vanities,
    Until the exquisitely recited Donal Óg transports a few of them,
    And Gabriel’s speech, so fretted over, is happily behind him,
    And everything winds down, along with comic relief from
    Poor drunken Freddy Malins, one of the last guests to leave.

    But the sting is in the tail. As she comes down the stairs,
    Gretta, by chance, hears Mr. D’Arcy singing The Lass of Aughrim.
    Huston frames her in stained-glass, lost to this world.
    Back at their hotel, still distracted, she relives a haunting
    Memory from her youth, and collapses in tears to sleep,
    Leaving Gabriel to his shattering epiphany.

    Life imitates art.
    As we watch this story unfold on this night each year,
    We are further moved, as, following its director,
    One by one the actors too are becoming shades—
    Donal McCann, Frank Patterson, Sean McClory, Dan O’Herlily,
    And on 4 January, Donal Donnelly, who played Freddy Malins.
    Gabriel’s epiphany is ours.


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