Thursday was a sucker punch. We lost Lemmy Kilmister just before the new year. Then we lost Angus Scrimm. And then David Bowie had to depart in a way that was completely David Bowie: sudden yet knowing, with a sly gift to us Earthlings as we look up to the stars and wonder what delightful adventures our spaceman had in store (for we all know that he is currently having an incredible adventure). Bowie’s death had a bit of closure to it that the others didn’t have; we knew it would be okay, because he made sure to take care of everyone before he left, reassuring us in death as he did for so many of us throughout his life. It’s sad, but it’s going to be okay if only we can focus on the beauty. Alas, the universe had other plans. I walked into work on Thursday and found out that Alan Rickman had passed away after quietly fighting cancer. It was an audible gasp moment, followed by a quick fact check. This must be a hoax. Alan Rickman was supposed to be around forever, so he couldn’t be dead; the concept of him not being here just didn’t seem right. However, it was true, and the heartbreak felt was swift and wrenching. This was the man that had brought so many roles to life for me with his deep voice, piercing eyes and sly smirk. Quickly, the inevitable question came up: “What was your favorite role?” For many, it’s professor Snape; others, Hans Gruber. I loved him as Alexander in Galaxy Quest, but really, for me, my favorite was his role as The Metatron in Dogma.
|He’s part of what makes it great.
Part of why Rickman’s Metatron is so enjoyable to watch stems from the fact that he captures a completely underappreciated job with deadpan, smartass charm, and we can relate to that despite that the character is an angel. The Metatron has a pretty high distinction, and yet no one really seems to get who he is or what he does. In Bethany’s room, his intentions of appearing as a divine being to charge her with a holy mission results in him getting doused with a fire extinguisher, as she doesn’t recognize the heavenly messenger. Our first words from him in the film are an exasperated, “Sweet Jesus, did you have to use the whole can?!” That sets the whole tone of his time onscreen, as he launches into a delightfully bitchy rant that culminates in, “No wonder you’re single.” We laugh because we’ve had those moments of rage and inconvenience when trying to do our jobs, yet we can’t express them. It doesn’t stop there, either: it goes from bad to worse when he has to break down who he is and what he does, which further fuels his frustration. And we get it. We’ve been there. For anyone that’s ever worked in customer service and has had to deal with someone who just isn’t getting something simple you’re trying to explain, you have to cover this aspect of yourself so thickly that you resemble a beauty queen’s pagent makeup. The beautiful part here is the Kevin Smith gives Rickman’s Metatron a chance to say the things we can’t. He gets to criticize those he dealt with in the past (“Noah was a drunk, look what he accomplished”) and doles out tough love with sass to someone who doesn’t want to think of the bigger picture (“If you should decide to stop being selfish and accept your responsibility, you’ll have help”). We love this about the character, and it’s cast perfectly as Rickman. Through him, we get to have those reactions that we normally aren’t allowed to have for the sake of being polite. Rickman rolls his eyes. He huffs. He gets pissy and clicks his tongue in disappointment.
Rickman also manages to bring a sensitivity and fairness to the role, largely by means of the inflections in his speech. In our second encounter with him (and really, we only get three if you go back and watch it again), Metatron counsels Bethany, who is reeling from the revelation that she is a descendant of Christ that has been asked to stop the destruction of existence. The character chooses not to argue with her, instead settling for the retelling of an important, meaningful story. We get Rickman’s voice delivered in soft, smooth tones as he explains with a pained expression and voice, “I had to deliver the news to a scared child who wanted nothing more than to play with the other children. I had to tell him that he was god’s only son, and it meant a life of persecution and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the very people he had come to enlighten and redeem. He begged me to take it all back. As if I could. He begged me to make it all not true. And I’ll let you in on something, and it’s something I’ve never told anyone before: if I had the power, I would have. It’s unfair. It’s unfair to ask a child to shoulder that responsibility, and it’s unfair to ask you to do the same now. I sympathize, I do. I wish I could take it all back. But I can’t. This is who you are.” This could have easily been played as Metatron lecturing Bethany, which would not have been hard to do in Rickman’s voice. Instead, Rickman presented it in soothing tones, which not only made the character Bethany feel better: it made us feel better, too. He didn’t have to yell or threaten. He had to kneel down with her, lower his tone, and tell her about another struggle like her own. He had to sympathize with her. He got down on the floor and allowed her to cry, which is something that so many of us need in life, if only for five minutes. In that instant, the audience felt his sense of duty, along with the character’s sense of fairness and empathy. We not only had a smart ass; we had someone that wanted to help. We’re on board because we want to be like that, and deep down (some even not-so-deep-down), many of us are.
|I’d let him comfort me.
By the time we get to our final encounter, we see a synthesis of the two previous portions of Metatron’s personality that blend together to create a three-dimenional person more like us. We get to watch Metatron work as the Voice of God. We see his beloved outfit get splattered yet again, and we laugh along with the frustration of this inevitability. We see him deliver the harsh truth about Bethany’s death, and we see the joy he brings when he tells the resurrected woman of her mystery conception. He’s got a sense of humor to go with an unshakable sense of protection and duty. Despite that this is only the third time we’ve interacted with this character, he’s an old friend. Whether you realize it or not, you’re smiling when you see him again, because seeing him means that everything is going to be okay, no matter how scary it gets.
And that, my friends, sums up why I love Alan Rickman in this role so much. It resonates so much because it’s us, and because it’s the comfort so many of us seek out in life. So often, we either have to stifle the smartass reaction or temper it with a deadpan delivery. We often feel unappreciated or unacknowledged. We combat it with sass and a sense of doing the right thing. We carry on, and we try to be as gentle as we can with those who need it. And when all else fails, we use our senses of humor to help lessen the load. “I say we get drunk because I’m all out of ideas,” The Metratron tells the group in a moment of hopelessness. We’ve all been there, man. Couple that with Rickman’s voice, and the warmth radiated is reason why we adored him. He could make us laugh, terrify us or break our hearts in an instant because he projected how we felt. Thanks for articulating – through voice pitch, facial expression and line delivery – how we feel on a daily basis. Thank you for representing us, and comforting us. We’ll miss you, Mr. Rickman.
|So long, old buddy.