“His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.” James Joyce, “The Dead”
So, I watched the John Huston movie version of James Joyce’s “The Dead” today. I’d read the story and seen the movie a long time ago, recalling it to be a masterpiece of a film but not quite remembering why. After seeing it again, I now realize why I found it to be so compelling.
The movie consists almost entirely of dialogues by a large number of mostly indistinct characters…most of which take place at a dinner party and, until the very end of it, come across as almost entirely superficial. I believe that Joyce wanted to create a story where much of the action takes place in the minds of the characters which are locked away from the audience’s eyes except (in the movie version) for the expressions they make and their actions performed in the context of the ongoing plot.
What struck me poignantly as I was watching the “dull” party dialogs is how repressed were the actions and behavior of each character, and how rudimentary were their interactions with each other. I think Joyce wanted to hide away the most interesting bits of the story and have the subsurface mood of repression permeate the narrative with only bits and pieces of the characters feelings percolating to the surface from time to time (until the very last scene). It crossed my mind how much richer the party would have been if each of the characters tweeted, not only during the party, but had developed and followed each other on the microblogging platform prior to the event.
Twitter could have made those characters not only more accessible to the audience but to each other as well. There is an incredible backstory present in “The Dead” that Joyce never lets the audience in on. It would have been fascinating to see the pre-party and party tweets from each of these characters to provide depth to the mostly stilted action…alas, that wasn’t in the cards for Joyce’s / Huston’s audience.
Only at the end of the story / movie do the true feelings of a couple of the characters surface. They’re incredibly moving and sad not only because of the sentiments expressed but because of how the repression of those feelings has influenced their lives. Unfortunately, Gabriel and Gretta lacked the outlets (social media and otherwise) to sublimate their grief and unhappiness that are readily available to folks today.
If Social Media existed in Joyce’s Dublin, perhaps everyone would have had a less troubling existence.