Film twists our reactions to the news of the recently departed.
Take, for instance, the report from the weekend of the tragic passing of Anton Yelchin. The actor was a mere 27 years young, the latest in a year that seems destined to claim the record for the most astonishing loss of talent in history. Yelchin’s death struck me, in much the same way as that of David Bowie. With Bowie, days before, I had been listening to new tracks (“Lazarus” & “Backstar”) from his recent release, enjoying the videos on YouTube, which seemed to capture his surreal spirit somehow reborn or at the very least rejuvenated. I appreciated that music and expected to partake of more, new and original work from him. None of us knew of the looming sickness that would snatch him away.
It was the same with Yelchin. Less than a week ago, I found myself engaged in a debate over dinner with friends, film fanatics like myself, and we were parsing our impressions of Green Room, the pros and cons of Jeremy Saulnier’s storytelling, the use of horror tropes to further what was essentially a real world cautionary thriller about naïve young artists, in too deep, because they made a smart joke at the worst time possible.
The one thing everyone seemed to in agreement with was Yelchin. There was something so perfect about his casting, and of course, his performance. So full of energy and passion, yet tempered, not so raw as to be untamed. There was always an intelligent gleam in his eyes.
No one who saw that film ever expected that to be the last time we would see him alive. Truth be told, it won’t be because he had completed productions in the pipeline. As a matter of fact, Yelchin will take to the stars in the latest installment of the Star Trek franchise reboot – Star Trek Beyond – a month from now. He was among a select few performers out there, in position to transition freely from blockbusters to indie projects with not just ease, but a style and presence that refused to call attention to itself. He was the consummate performer with the talent and soul of an artist.
And that is why I drift back to the idea of Green Room as the last time I will see (and remember) him alive. When Star Trek Beyond graces screens, most likely with a touching and deserving tribute to him, he will be gone. We will see him, but know he is no longer with us. In Green Room though, he was, like Bowie, still making his special brand of magic.
The last time an actor’s death touched me so, I believe it was James Gandolfini, and like Yelchin, he had Enough Said, a new romantic dramedy on the verge of release, which seemed like a departure of sorts from the volcanic passion we had come to expect from him as mob boss Tony Soprano, although that series was years past its expiration. Yet, the memory of that character endured (and continues to).
As Albert, the divorced middle-aged Everyman, we were introduced to a man, in this final role, we wanted to spend more time with, but we were forced to say goodbye. Filing in and out of theaters for those screenings was akin to a final viewing. One last glimpse before the closing of the casket and laying him to rest. I suppose that is how Star Trek Beyond will feel.
But I can’t let go of Green Room. It is the reminder that we never know when or if we will ever see someone again, so we must treasure each moment. It’s so hard to say goodbye, but film mutates the impact. It is the moving portrait that we can return to as often as we like or need.
Green Room will forever be tattooed on the sensitive skin of my memory. It will be a memento, a clue to remind me that, ever so often, I need to go back to Only Lovers Left Alive or Like Crazy to solve the narrative of loss and longing.
Goodbye, Anton Yelchin. I would like to believe that you have been and always will be our friend.