In the ten days since Alan Rickman passed away, I’ve spent time reading about his remarkable life and watching film clips on YouTube. I greatly appreciated this versatile actor, who portrayed villains, lovers and even aliens with equal portions of grace and skill. I didn’t know him, personally. But I’ve certainly felt his absence from the earthly realm since his death.
While processing his absence, in my own way, one film has come up repeatedly. I’ve seen many of Alan’s films, but not this one from 1991, Truly, Madly, Deeply. I made plans to eventually watch all of his movies, over the next few months, as a celebration of his talent and life. And this movie, although not the one I had selected first, kept catching my attention. For me, that’s a nudge. The repetition is an invitation to surrender to the flow to see where it goes. When a free version of Truly, Madly, Deeply appeared on my recommended list on YouTube yesterday, I knew this would be the first of Alan’s films that I watched.
Truly, Madly, Deeply stars Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman and Michael Maloney. This romantic comedy, rated PG, was written and directed by Anthony Minghella and has a run time of 1 hour and 46 minutes.
Nina (Stevenson) is dealing with nearly unbearable grief after the sudden loss of her young husband, Jamie (Rickman). In spite of the best efforts of her family, friends, coworkers and therapist, Nina is struggling with swirling emotions, including anger. She just wants Jamie back in her life, and in that longing, during times of need, she imagines that he’s there beside her, speaking to her, giving her advice.
One night, as Nina plays the piano, mourning her husband, she hears Jamie accompanying her on his cello. They were both gifted musicians and often played duets together. When she slowly turns to look over her shoulder, Jamie is standing there, impossibly present.
Nina fears Jamie is a figment of her imagination, but she doesn’t care. Jamie, her Jamie, is back and that’s all that matters. They laugh together, play the word games they invented, dance, sing and play duets again. Nina asks questions about dying and the afterlife. Jamie fusses about the condition of the flat Nina has purchased and expresses his continuing dislike of the government.
This strange new life should have been ideal. Except Nina and Jamie shift into who they truly are, not just their best versions of themselves. Jamie, who is dead after all, is always cold. His attempts to get warm cause Nina to be too hot. Her messiness inspires Jamie to tidy up, and rearrange the flat, which displeases Nina, who was learning to create her own space.
And then there are the dead friends Jamie begins to bring home. They accumulate in the house, watching classic movie videos all hours of the day and night, and they too are freezing cold, collecting piles of blankets to warm themselves under. Nina exclaims that the rats that plagued her home are gone, apparently terrified of spirits, but she now has a ghost infestation.
In the midst of the growing chaos at home, Nina finds herself dealing with a blossoming attraction to a living man (Maloney) that she seemingly met by chance. When she and Jamie have an argument over the guest ghosts helping him to rearrange the living room once again, Nina asks if this was really what their life was like before. She had remembered the wonderful times, the fun times, and had glossed over the ways they could irritate each other.
As life rights itself, Nina realizes the real reason that Jamie came back to her.
Oh, this was a beautiful movie, and Minghella’s directorial debut. I’m not sure how I have missed this one, but the poignancy and timing of this film were not lost on me. Minghella wrote the screenplay with Juliet in mind and asked his friend, Alan Rickman, to star in it as well. That depth of friendship between the director and two performers is evident in the intimacy of the movie.
There were many teary-eyed moments for me, because of Alan’s recent passing, and due to the nature of the film. And yet how powerful the story was, and the lesson. The living must go on living, even as they miss their loved ones. Cherish the memories, speak to the departed, for they are listening, but don’t get stuck in bereavement. Live, laugh, love. The ending of the movie was a heart breaker, and absolutely right.
Because I keep thinking of Alan’s absence here on earth, I was particularly struck by a poem Jamie and Nina recite to each other, near the end of the movie. Called Absence in the film, the use of the very word that resonates within me concerning Alan made me realize this was why I was guided to watch this movie now. In part it reads,
Forgive me. If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love, if you have died,
all the leaves will fall in my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but I shall stay alive,
because above all things you wanted me indomitable. (by Pablo Neruda)
I am grateful for many things around this experience, not the least of which was, that I surrendered to the flow of events that brought this movie to my awareness. It is an excellent film to watch to process grief and the pang of missing someone…even a man who has touched my heart in countless ways, without ever actually meeting me.
Every part of me that longs for more, that soars over art of all kinds, that hopes and dreams, that misses someone I never really knew…all of me matters to the Divine. How do I know? Because even the small and seemingly insignificant trifles of my heart stir the Creator, who responds with love and grace and invitations to grow. I matter. All of me…truly, madly, deeply.