R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman

It’s always tragic when a great talent dies young. The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman at age 46, however, hits me especially hard. As actors go, Hoffman wasn’t just great. He was a genius. He was the type of dynamic, passionate actor who gave it his all in every role, making even small roles utterly huge. His career happened to coincide largely with my own awakening to the beauty of what cinema could be. I first noticed him when I saw Twister in fifth grade. It sounds silly now, but I remember thinking he was the best part of the film. In high school, he blew me away in films like Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Almost Famous. As I eased into a part-time career as a film critic in college and after, Hoffman was a frequent force in some of my favorite films: 25th Hour, Capote, Synecdoche, New York, Moneyball, The Master. His filmography really does read like a greatest hits of the contemporary indie/auteur boom.

My favorite Hoffman film is probably Capote (2005), for which he won the Oscar for best actor. Not only is it his best performance in a career full of exceptional performances, but it’s the performance that I think I’ll remember him by. His take on Truman Capote is so very humane, yet so tortured, like the actor himself. The film itself is cold, bleak and beautiful, set on the harsh plains of my native state (Kansas). Its quiet spirit and yet foreboding nature makes Capote a film that ultimately feels like an elegy to Hoffman’s own life: a artist in pursuit of beauty, committed to excellence and the elusive masterpiece, yet haunted by the immensity of the existential questions he so thoroughly excavated in his work. Like many artists, including some he portrayed–Capote for instance, or Synecdoche‘s Caden Cotard–Hoffman was clearly present in his work, fully immersed to the point that greatness was possible, but not without great personal cost.

We’ll never know what brilliance could have come in Hoffman’s middle and old age, but we do know that he gave the world some beautiful things in his time. I’m thankful for that, and thankful for his life.

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3 responses to “R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman

  1. I am always genuinely grieved when a man lives a joyless life of drug addiction and immorality and then enters eternity by all reasonable accounts without Jesus. I am very honestly sorry for his children who will not only grow up without their father, but knowing that he never married their mother and died with a needle in his arm. :( How heartrendingly tragic. (I mean that)

    I’m pretty sure his career is not helping him right now and he’s not nearly as thankful for what he did with his life as you are. His priorities have, I promise you, been eternally adjusted. I’ve never seen even one of his movies, but I would have very much preferred and rejoiced in standing with him as my brother in the hosts of heaven.

  2. Thank you for this touching tribute to a man who was a genuine master of his art. It’s hard to know how to respond to both the greatness of his artistic legacy and the base tragedy of his death. I suppose all we can really do is respect how both sides of him were the portrait of a man desperately searching for meaning and beauty in a hard and broken world. Thanks for doing so.

  3. Agreed – the landscape and mind appeared one in Capote – wonderful movie and my favorite work from Hoffman too. A special man, missed.

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