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Monday, February 3, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman


I don't think it's quite real to me (yet) that he's dead and I won't get the chance to see him on stage ever again.

The only time I saw him on stage was "Death of a Salesman" a couple of years ago. My seat was really too far to see the full scale of his performance, but I did see him frown, a kind of disbelieving despair, as if the darkness that is closing in on him could not possibly be real, and yet here it is.

Nothing about PSH is beautiful, not his face, his body, or his voice. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him in Magnolia. His male nurse is maybe the only thing I remember from the film. Him and the raining frogs.

No, actually Magnolia was not the first time I saw him. It was a season 1 episode of Law and Order, in which he played a preppy little shit who raped a girl and then got acquitted. That was his first role.

In Capote, every emotion, every fleeting thought, every repressed urge was utterly transparent through a frown, a look, a gesture, a flicker of the eye, a crack in his voice. Every moment I knew exactly what the character was thinking. But in Doubt he was complete opaque and unknowable. In The Master he was both unknowable and ... omnipotent, or so he convinced me.

To me the worst of all this is that he's not going to ... No, who am I kidding? The worst part to me is that I will never get to see another movie directed by PSH or watch him lumbering around and twitching his eyebrows on stage. It's my loss. Why didn't I go see his Iago? Or a bunch of other theater performances, when I still had the chance? Perhaps because I thought I'd have loads of time ...

Once in a while, or hardly ever, you encounter a kind of terrifying and irresistible intimacy and vulnerability that is not of this world. "Nobody knows anybody. Not that well," said Gabriel Byrne in "Miller's Crossing." In life I've learned the truth of it. Yet, here's someone who gave you the most naked truth about humanity in all its blood and guts, searing with the inexplicable glory and horror. He was raw not as crisp green vegetables or even fresh red meat; he was RAW as a gaping wound that's gushing bright red blood and life. He forced you to know him and, in turn, yourself. I don't know if I really want to, but I can't look away.

We all survive on lies we tell ourselves, happy lies to feel somewhat good about ourselves and keep going. He came along and showed you the truth, which sends a chill down your spine. 

When I saw his only directorial effort, "Jack Goes Boating," in 2010, I found myself bawling uncontrollably a few hours afterward, alone in my car on the road. It was a quiet and restrained little chamber piece, packing a much-delayed punch. It had a happy ending for god's sake! His character got himself a steady job and even a lovely and warm girlfriend. But the darkness was unmistakable and unshakable. A melancholy with a smile of resignation.

That is why I cannot shake the suspicion that somehow he wanted it --- to die early, I mean --- even if not consciously. That is why I wonder, maybe, the two decades of his life he had shared with us is a fluke, a gift, and pure, undeserved luck.

(P.S. I guess I'm moving through the grieving steps because I'm finally crying now.) 

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