I have never been so moved by a film as I was when I first saw The Dead, John Huston’s adaptation of James Joyce’s famous short story. It was Huston’s last film, directed from his wheelchair after he turned 80, released after he was dead. What a frighteningly difficult story to adapt, just two scenes to work with, and yet Huston created a powerful, resonant masterpiece out of it.
The Dead is centred around a party held on the Feast of Epiphany by two maiden aunts, whose family and friends gather around them, chatting and bickering with affection and affectation, so much like people we all know. It seems purposeless, but we are soon drawn into their lives as if they are ours, and are sitting there among them.
The second scene is the famous one between a middle-aged couple, the Conroys, in their bedroom, when she reveals to him the power of a song and a memory. It is an epiphanic moment for him, as he looks out at the snow falling softly over Ireland and realises that love and life hold meanings he hadn’t considered before. I was a young boy when I saw that film and wept at the end, and it taught me a useful lesson: that the stuff of great art comes from the lives of ordinary people.