Every media outlet is buzzing with the news of Alan Rickman's recent and unexpected death. In case you are unaware, Rickman (69) passed early this morning in London of cancer. What a week, right? First David Bowie, and now Alan Rickman. All the Facebook posts, tweets, and articles got me thinking: why do we mourn the death of people we barely (if that) even know?
In my young age, there have been maybe a handful of actors who passed that had any sort of impact on my life: Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Lee, Robin Williams, and now Alan Rickman. Despite not knowing these actors personally or even remotely at all, shock was just one of the emotions stirring in me after the news of their passings. What compels us to write a tribute tweet or a status for these individuals? Why do we care?
Much like music or literature, cinema is an art. Yes, a lot of it is purely for entertainment and holds no meaningful or residual concept (I'm looking at you, Seth Rogen and company), but cinema exists for the art. When you read a book, you fall in love with a character or characters, you hate another character, and there is always that one character that just annoys the crap out of you. Well, much like a book, a film has the same effect on its audience(s). We fall in love, grow to hate, and are irritated by certain characters. We don't mourn the death celebrities because of their fame, we mourn their deaths because of their impact in our lives through the characters they portray; characters that we find relatable.
Okay, so I never lost my true love to an immortal wizard, animated green Jell-o, or back-sassed Gandalf, but I have known sorrow, joy, and anger. Even the most unrealistic characters or stories can and often times are relatable because of the different experiences we each have throughout our lives. Some stories can stir childhood nostalgia. Some songs remind us of people we know or used to know. Some characters resemble people in our lives. Even if it's not a specific person or event that we relate a film, book, song, or character to, there is still something we find relatable about any given thing.
I don't relate to Rickman because he portrayed a pompous Judge in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, or because he voiced a lackadaisical caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, or because he was an unfaithful husband in Love Actually, or even a shifty professor in the Harry Potter series. I relate to him because these are all memorable films that influenced some sort of nostalgia or emotion in me, through his talented and flawless portrayal of such uniquely irritating and oddly lovable characters.
I grew up falling asleep to my mom reading the Harry Potter series to my brother and I. Rickman brought Snape to life right before my eyes, and he did not disappoint. I'll admit it, I cried during the credits of the last Harry Potter film and not because of what you're thinking -- Snape giving Harry his tear and then Harry getting thrust down Snape's memory lane and discovering the truth about Snape and his secretly big heart. It hit me in that moment because that was the end of my childhood. I had no more books to look forward to, and now no more films to look forward to. That is why I mourn the death of Alan Rickman.