“How’s your Spanish?” Alan Rickman’s Jamie asks Juliet Stevenson’s Nina in Truly, Madly, Deeply. What follows is one of the most poignant scenes ever captured on film, in which Rickman recites a section of the Pablo Neruda poem, “La Muerta.”
When I first saw the movie in 1990, I was alone in the theater (it was a weekday matinée and I was playing hooky from somewhere). It was a good thing I was on my own, though, since I wept so openly and so unashamedly throughout the entire movie that I am sure I would have alarmed anyone sitting nearby. Since then, I have seen the film many times, and each time I have cried until my eyes were nearly swollen shut.
It is the finest film I know about grieving, and, while the screenplay is superb, it is the acting that sets it apart. Stevenson’s work is sublime, but here I wish to say something about Alan Rickman, who died yesterday at 69 of cancer. An extraordinarily gifted actor, he had the capacity to find in himself, and share, a very deep humanity.
In his role as Jamie, he plays a ghost who returns to his beloved so he can somehow lessen her outsized grief. It is no easy task to persuade an audience that you have come back from the dead to comfort your stricken lover, but Rickman manages to infuse his character with such deep feeling that I could not help but believe absolutely that he was as real, as vulnerable, and as flawed as I was.
If only he could return to us one more time with a few words of comfort while we mourn his very great loss.
(For a Spanish/English version of Neruda’s “La Muerta,” click here.)