Death of A Salesman
Willy Loman has lived a meaningless life, he will leave nothing remarkable behind when he dies, no footprints in history, only his two sons, Biff and Happy, neither of whom have matched up to the dreams of success he had for them. His sons are powerless to stop his slide into empty depression and he comes to realise how pointless and ultimately unfulfilled his existence has been.
Now, he is even struggling to make ends meet in his sales career, struggling to pay off his debts, borrowing from his friends. He has been unfaithful to his wife on a couple of occasions and feels that he has let her down, despite the fact that she has remained loyal to him.
The action in Arthur Miller’s famous 1940s play switches from past to present, delineating the character of Willy and comparing how the dreams of his younger self have given way to cynicism, alienation and desperation in his later years. Dustin Hoffman once said that the play/film was his favourite acting experience and he certainly throws himself into it bringing out every nuance of Willy’s character, making him an identifiable, human and ultimately tragic figure. Hoffman’s towering performance is brilliantly supported by Kate Reid as Linda, Charles Durning as Charley and especially John Malkovich as Biff with Malkovich bringing a particular intensity to the screen that is impossible to tear your eyes from.
Although made in 1985, stylistically the film harks back to an earlier brand of filmmaking, being a direct translation of the play to the screen with all the artificiality and staginess this entails. While some modern audiences might find this difficult to me it is a definite bonus as the camera dwells on the actors and allows them to do what they do best which for such a closely observed character piece is absolutely the right treatment. The sets are deliberately stylised but cleverly, this only enhances the realism of the performances, removing any distractions from the power of the actors and of the original text.
Sometimes surrealistic, with it’s constantly changing timeframes and references to Willy’s now deceased elder brother Ben, who was much more successful than Willy and who’s presence counterpoints Willy’s failure, “Death of a Salesman” was first shown on TV before receiving a theatrical release to widespread acclaim from critics and cinemagoers. Unmissable, powerful and still as relevant now as it was in the 1940s though not one to watch if you’re feeling depressed!
Awards: Golden Globes, Emmy Awards, Sant Jordi Awards, Television Critics Association Awards
Nominations: Emmy Awards, Golden Globes