We mourn for the loss to our own lives, and for the effect and unwanted change it will make in our world. This isn’t selfish, it’s how we relate to others, how and why we care and protect and love.
I write this after the death of Alan Rickman, whom I once met briefly, but it applies to so many other celebrities whom I never had the chance to meet before they left us. As a lifelong film fan, I’ve lost more famous friends than I can count, some even before I was born.
These people inspired emotion in me, bubbling up as laughter or tears, all born from the way I related to the performance. What I found familiar was as potent as what I didn’t; it was all about how real they made it, how vividly the role was played. I felt more in five seconds with some of them than I had in years of interacting with most of my acquaintances, interactions that never went beyond the superficial, and didn’t need to.
The actor may have worked at that role to create those emotions in people, millions of them, not just me, but we’re talking about feelings here, and those were no less real because I shared them. Quite the opposite; sharing an emotion, even borrowed or temporary, with a crowd of people can be intense.
Film performances are recorded, their distinction from most of our other stimuli, and we choose when to expose ourselves to that stimulus. We can somewhat re-create those feelings this way, and while the first-time feel that may only be slightly different from later viewings, it is sweeter because it only happens once. And then we want more.
This is at the heart of why we mourn. The fact that the actor or filmmaker is still living allows us hope for more, for new excitement, for more of that first-time feel. So studios make sequels; they know that people will line up for another chance at that previous emotional stimulus, even though both industry and viewers are perfectly well aware that sequels are rarely as good, and much more often rushed and disappointing. Even within a mediocre sequel, we have the memory of our feeling, mixed with a dash of newness that makes the ticket price… mostly worth it.
When we lose the actor, even this is denied us. We re-watch, and while it’s certainly not disappointing, the knowledge that there will be no more usually resurfaces. It’s the permanent loss of a friend, despite memory, despite photos and videos and sharing your love of that person with many others. It’s loss, and we should mourn.
One day I might get over the loss of Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, Van Heflin, Steve Irwin, and even Alan Rickman. But until then, I mourn.