In Memoriam: Christopher Reeve, 1952-2004
When I was a child, my favorite movie was Superman II
. I could watch it over and over again. It was really the Clark Kent character I loved, and still do---the last Boy Scout, so endearing and adorable, both sweetly sad and sweetly amused at how unaware his friends are of his real identity. Clark is utterly gentle, yet still capable of pulling a light prank or making a quietly sharp comment. After 9/11, I was tired of watching tape of the WTC Towers collapsing over and over and sad that I would never really see them. I wanted to remember them some other way, and oddly, it was the Superman movies that soothed me. It wasn't just Superman's graceful gliding around them. Logical implications of the script aside, Clark Kent exudes so much earnestness, you just have
to believe that good will
, Somewhere In Time
, The Bostonians
, Remains of the Day
, even Anna Karenina
. . .I can't really think of another actor who has so consistently made me feel his whole heart was in his performance, and always pulled mine along, even to follow a detestable character or sink into an otherwise bad movie. I can't think of someone who has so consistently made me feel that performance can and should inspire strong feelings and a desire for good even as it entertains, and that an audience should be unashamed of being inspired by art. I'm sure there are other great actors who have lit up celluloid with that fire of the stage, that sense of mission and purpose, but he was the first one who really lit it up for me.
I admire people who are willing to wear their heart on their sleeve, and I've always been inspired by his imperviousness to the cult of irony. He never backed down from trumpeting a cause, including his own, just because others like to make snide commentary. He was never too cool to try and do some good, nor to ask for help when he needed it himself. He wouldn't get beaten into somebody else's idea of what he should be striving for, or what was realistic. He was one of my ideals of determination. Yet neither did he take himself too seriously. Sincerity made the balancing act easy, just like his graceful turns made it easy to believe in flying.
There aren't a whole lot of performers I proudly wear the label of fan for, but I've always been a fan of his. When I decided to become a writer, I'd sometimes daydream I'd eventually be famous enough to get to interview him--or even, one day, write a film for him to be in. I sincerely hoped that one day he would walk again. I still hope that one day others will.
Requiscat in Pacem, and Adieu