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Film / The Dead (1987)

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"One by one, we're all becoming shades."

The Dead is the final film directed by John Huston, released in 1987. It is an adaptation of the last story in James Joyce's short story collection Dubliners.

Two Maiden Aunts, Julia and Kate Merkan, are hosting their annual Epiphany party, January 6, 1904. Their extended family has come for a night of dancing and entertainment followed by a feast. Among their guests are Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston, John's daughter). Gabriel and Gretta are a respectable upper-class married couple, seemingly perfectly ordinary. But before the night is over some hidden truths will be revealed.

The last film directed by John Huston, who was very ill with emphysema and in fact died four months before the film was released. Colm Meaney has a small role as a party guest.


  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Gretta is said to be a blonde in the story, but has black hair here.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Mrs Malins is a bit more nagging and controlling of her son than she is in the short story.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy:
    • The part where Mr Brown tries to flirt with and ends up offending several younger women is removed.
    • Lily the maid's rantings are insensitive and make Gabriel feel uncomfortable in the short story, which they do not here.
  • The Alcoholic: Freddy Malins. Kate is worried that he'll show up drunk for the party, and he does, despite the fact that he made "the pledge" to stop drinking on New Year's Eve. After Gabriel frantically cleans Freddy up, Freddy claims that he has to use the bathroom but in fact drinks some more.
    • Somewhat subverted in that Freddy sobers up a bit as the night goes on, but he's nearly as clumsy as he is drunk.
    • Mr. Browne is a functional alcoholic. He starts the evening as quite the debonair gentleman, but he starts drinking like a fish, gets more and more intoxicated (to the point he passes out near the end), and shows he can be a mean drunk.
  • As You Know: When Kate is introducing Bartell D'Arcy to another guest she makes sure to call him "the celebrated tenor."
  • Big Thin And Short Trio: Aunt Kate (big), Mary Jane (thin) and Aunt Julia (short).
  • Canon Foreigner: The character Mr Grace, who recites a poem called 'Donal Óg', does not exist in the short story. This addition serves to foreshadow Gretta's old memories resurfacing.
  • The Bore: At one point Gabriel sits down next to Mrs. Malins and has to listen to her boring nattering about her holidays in Scotland and the beautiful scenery and how her son-in-law likes to catch fish. Gabriel's relief when he finally escapes is palpable.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A lot of shocked reactions from the diners as Freddy Mallins mentions being impressed by a talented black singer in the pantomime he saw recently.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: A few hours, covering the dinner party and Gabriel and Gretta's return to the hotel afterwards.
  • Imagine Spot: Gabriel's thoughts about how Aunt Julia will probably die soon are accompanied by an Imagine Spot of him and other bereaved sitting around her body in the bed.
  • Inner Monologue: Joyce's ending, where Gabriel looks out at the snow and thinks about the transitory nature of life and how death comes to us all, is rendered in the movie as an Inner Monologue delivered as Gabriel pensively gazes out the window.
  • Maiden Aunt: Two, in the persons of Gabriel's aunts Julia and Kate, who live together. They also live with their niece Mary Jane, who seems well on the way to becoming a Maiden Aunt herself.
  • My Beloved Smother: Mrs. Malins is very controlling of Freddy, carping about his drinking, complaining that he's never gotten married. She demands that he put pillows under her feet. They apparently still live together. Gabriel snarks that maybe his mother is the reason why Freddy drinks so much.
  • Oireland: Averted quite magnificently. An almost entirely all Irish cast, and the American Anjelica Houston does a convincing accent as an early 20th century Galway girl.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The film ends with the camera panning up into the blackness of the night sky as snow falls, symbolizing death and leaving the land of the living.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Pay attention to Gretta throughout the film. She teases Gabriel about wearing galoshes and refuses to wear them, she looks out the window while dancing with Bartell, Mr. Grace's recitation hits her very hard, and when Gabriel mentions that one should not give too much weight to the past, that "our business is with the living" during his speech, the camera focuses on Gretta, who looks away briefly. When you know about Michael Furey, you realize that Gretta is just as broken over his death as she was nearly twenty years ago.
  • Second Love: An anguished Gretta tells Gabriel about how she was desperately in love with one Michael Furey, a boy who died of TB at 17. Gabriel is rattled to hear this, but probably even more rattled to realize that he never felt that way about her or anyone else. ("He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love.")
  • Servile Snarker: Lily the maid, who is quite outspoken.
  • Slice of Life: There isn't a whole lot of story, just a rather uneventful dinner party, which eventually leads to Gretta making a confession about her past, ending with Gabriel staring out at the snow and thinking about death.
  • Snow Means Death: The ending has Gabriel looking through the hotel window out at the snow, as it covers all Ireland in white, thinking about the long-dead boy his wife loved and how death comes for everyone in the end.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Molly Ivors, who forces her political opinions on Gabriel during their dance, and in fact leaves before dinner to go to a meeting.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Mary Jane plays a technically proficient piano piece for the party, but the guests are all bored during it and only applaud out of politeness. Aunt Julia - who is long past her soprano days - sings "Arrayed for the Bridal" in a slightly warbling voice but her performance moves everyone with how spirited it is.
  • Title Drop: The last two lines of dialogue, as Gabriel stares out the window at the Snow Means Death scenery.
    Gabriel: Snow is falling. Falling in that lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lies buried. Falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living, and the dead.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Gabriel muses about death and the transitory nature of life at the end, thinking about everyone who has gone before him and how he is "as transient as they".