When you spend a significant portion of your life watching movies—because your parents didn’t have the money or inclination to buy you video games—there is a blurring in your mind. These people you do not know come into your home through your screen and you get to know them. By nature of the location, it is private and intimate.
For some people, like mentally disturbed people, this can lead to violent and horrible consequences: obsession, stalking, murder.
For the rest of us, it’s much milder. It leads to comfort and, sometimes, solace. These people you have never spoken to feel like friends.
It’s weird. I type the words and I feel weird. But I know it’s true. Because when the ones that had brought me the most comfort pass away, I feel a loss. I cannot say it is the same as losing genuine friends and family. It is not. Those losses were deep, and profoundly heartbreaking. They were rupturing.
But, I do feel a loss.
I didn’t watch Die Hard until college. My mother loves action-adventure movies and period dramas in almost equal measure, but Die Hard fell through the video collection cracks. As such, my introduction to Alan Rickman was not as Hans Gruber or even the Sheriff of Nottingham in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but as Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s adaption of Sense and Sensibility, which was released almost exactly 20 years ago.
The significance of this scene has changed over time for me. When I was a teenager, I looked at Colonel Brandon and saw him experience love at first sight. In the most simple of explications and analyses, he was awestruck by Kate Winslet’s Marianne Dashwood, and in a single moment, he had fallen in love with her.
As I continued to re-watch the movie, Colonel Brandon would become the paragon for a good man. He was kind, and thoughtful, loving and strong. He, as my friend remarked today, was for me and others “the standard to which all men are held.”
Today I replayed this scene I love so much for who-knows-how-many-th time. It was the first thing I thought of watching when I found out that Alan Rickman had died.
I watched it and felt like I was watching the scene for the first time. All of those meanings I had found for this scene were still relevant and present, but they were aspects of a far greater whole. I wasn’t just watching a good man fall in love.
I was watching him be overwhelmed. Had he seen Marianne across a crowded room, it would be something as simple as love at first sight. But he doesn’t react first to her face. In fact, he doesn’t see it until he rounds the corner. It is her voice and music that slows his pace and catches him.
And when Colonel Brandon does see Marianne, though she is in the midst of a profound emotional loss, she is doing something that she is both good at, and loves doing. I couldn’t call her her happiest self, but she is, unbeknownst to her, presenting her best possible self all things considered. And it is all of this that Brandon sees, and this is what overcomes him with love. It is not her face. It is her. And once he sees her, he cannot look away.
And then I realized something more.
I wasn’t watching a man fall in love. I was watching a classically-trained, award-winning actor portray the complexities of love in such an authentic and genuine way, that his performance was one I’d seek out and to watch it over and over again.
It felt real.
So, thank you, sir. I loved your work.