John Hurt

On John Hurt

By Jeffrey Fiene


The first film I saw with John Hurt in it was Ridley Scott’s terrifying Alien. He played the poor sap who gets the egg laid in his chest. The scene everyone knows from the movie. The chestburster scene. It terrified people for decades. Because he sold it. His talent was so massive that the audience, any audience, believed that an alien parasite was burrowing its way through his body. He did such a good job that when Mel Brooks made Spaceballs he repeated the action of dying for a gag. That was who John Hurt was. He took his work seriously in every way one can. He never saw himself so importantly that he couldn’t joke. He was truly multifaceted.

The next film I saw him in was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He played Olivander and gave Harry his first wand. He would later reprise this role as well, after a decade of being absent from the franchise, and flawlessly ease back into a minor part as if he had been playing it every day for every year since his first lines.

He could play contradictions as well. Winston Smith in 1984 was the direct antithesis of his character in V for Vendetta. He lent his voice to Watership Down and the incomparable Aragorn in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animated feature.

The role that cemented him as my idol though wasn’t Elephant Man or Caligula or, my own personal guilty pleasure, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He played the War Doctor in Doctor Who. For the fiftieth anniversary, they created an incarnation of the main character that was so complex and dark that he was locked away in the Doctor’s psyche. A character that had no full backstory aside from the occasional cryptic mentions of the Last Great Time War. A version of the Doctor that did the most terrible thing the Doctor ever did. The character was created to give the anniversary special, Day of the Doctor, an inside look at the Doctor’s secret shame. John Hurt, in the span of seventy some odd minutes, the shortest amount of time an actor has ever been given to have a begging an end to his time as the Doctor, established a full-fledged and entirely believable answer to the question of what the Doctor’s secret shame is.

The War Doctor was given the chance to see what would become of him. The War Doctor saw atrocity after atrocity, even some committed by him. The War Doctor could bounce from utter despondency to joy in such subtle ways. This is due to John Hurt. He incredibly gave this performance far more than any other actor coming into that role could. A man who acted for the sake of acting. A man who stood with giants and could have any role he wanted. He gave it his all. He gave every role his all.

If I can have a quarter of the body of work he had when I die, then I will pass satisfied.

Thank you for everything.


West Egg Laid

You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.

-Nick Carraway


Out of impulse I decided to reread The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had not read it since my junior year in high school and recently acquired a second hand copy of it, as I had never owned it beforehand for myself. The annotations and highlights drew attention to the academic processes that are put into many first time readers. Sometimes early-age analysis can be detrimental to drawing a personal value from the novel.

I had very low opinions of every character in the novel after I read it the first time. I saw tom as the book described him, a hulking brute. I saw Daisy as flighty and irresponsible. I saw Jordan as one dimensional and unnecessary. Gatsby was underutilized and Nick was overdone.

Then I read it again.

Tom is by far more boorish and selfish than I had initially realized. Racism and sexism exude from the pores of his character. His contradictory attitude and claiming of people like items lead to despair and, eventually, death. The novel describes him as hulking at the beginning and it is almost as if Mr. Fitzgerald promised that would be the way we see him at the end too.

Daisy was far more complex. My initial cynicism of her character was due to a joint reading of Candide by Voltaire and that gave me a mix of worldly doubt that I focused on indecision. She is put in an unfair position through the entire book. Outwardly bold, but so willing to avoid true emotional conflict. Whoever is with her can talk her into what they need. She has been broken down by men and used as a tool. Her ending is by far the most unsatisfying. Not in a literary way, but because you really do hope for something to happen to make things easier on her. In a way, I guess Tom arranges that.

Jordan was a foil and I didn’t see much more to her this time. Definitely not one-dimensional, she gives Nick a taste of the lustful flightiness of high society. Uncompromised by not being a part of the triad of unclear love. She goes out as she came in, of her own accord.

Jay Gatsby is a very thrilling character. I will not divulge if I see any sort of relation between he and I, but I will say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. He believes that he only wants what’s best for Daisy, but doesn’t understand that he only wants what’s best for Daisy as long as she’s happily with him. He does what anyone in love would do out of desperation. Sacrifices morals. Pushes boundaries. Surrounds himself with people to fill in the void of loneliness. He lets a greedy green light drive him and he blinds himself with what he thinks is devotion.

Nick Carraway happens to be exactly what this story needs. An outsider. A ground for the lavish absurdity and harsh reality of the other characters’ lives. His needs are simple and his wants are clear. Association, tenuous at that, drags him into a summer of terribly divisive passion and love corrupted by selfishness. He feels himself being made into a necessary involvement only to be pushed aside. Shoved into tense situation after tense situation by the insistence of every character. Privy to knowledge he never wanted.

By no means should this be taken as a professional analysis. Although I am conflicted while writing this, I do hope that my motivation is clear. This novel is meant to be reread as you get older. In a sick way, the reader must force these characters through that terrible summer over and over to truly derive their own value from it.

A fear of excess and reluctance of devotion. The virtues of patience and the worth of uncompromised morals. All these things, in either direction, is what I pull from those few houses, those parties, that uncomfortably hot birthday and the soggy solitary funeral gave me.

I suppose all of that is an old sport, but it is a good one.

Letter to A. Hamilton: January 11th, 2017

Dearest Colo. Hamilton,

I want to congratulate you on your 260th (or 262nd) birthday. Even though you passed away a great many years ago, your spirit has not been more alive since the days where you regularly wrote and spoke with little inhibition. I have entire volumes of questions and praises to ask and give. You have, in this past year, impacted my existence in ways that even I, who has the firmest grasp on my emotional ideals compared to the world I live in, am troubled at funneling into sentences and paragraphs.

Your boundless energy and near-psychic anticipation for the need for a financial system in our country’s future, your bravery at separating from the empire that grieved so many and intelligence to turn that enemy into a friend, your sharp wit that spared no man whose folly was interpreted as a danger and the refusal to hypocritically take another life which led to your all-too-soon demise have driven me to extents that still break barriers.

I must say, good sir, that I have not only learned from your successes, but I have learned from your failures. You worked yourself into exhaustion many times. Your quick judgement and assessment of character and situation led to preventable disasters. Your social and political rivals could not the do damage to you that you had not already done to yourself ten times over. Many of my contemporaries believe that your trait for oratory pyrotechnics (Chernow coined that phrase) led you right into your grave.

Whether the latter is true is unimportant. What happened at Weehawken is irreversible. You are, for all biological purposes, dead. I believe that new life has been breathed into your legacy. New generations are pouring over your writings. More people know the name Alexander Hamilton than every before.

That knowledge is my gift to you, dear sir. Your death was not the end of your legacy.

Thank you, dear sir, for changing the world and continuing to do so long after anyone thought possible.

Your obedient servant,

J. Fiene

The West Egg Hatched

So, I’m not a professional reviewer in any aspect. I write what I know, and critically reviewing any art form with weight is something I do not have any sort of qualification for. Particularly novels that blur the line between history and fiction. Romanticize the already overly romanticize. I am an amateur at examination.

That aside, I feel that I need to write as much as I can. No matter what, I need to create a body of work that can cushion me when I take life’s hardest blows. The book, Z- A Novel of Zelda Fitzgeraldreinforced this notion in me.

I am still reeling from the novel. The explosive personalities, accurate or not, evoked something I’ve never felt while reading a book. I can’t put it into many more words than what I’ve already said.

This book is one of a select few that I started and finished in the same day. I received the novel as a birthday gift from a very dear friend after seeing she was reading it. After three months, I finally gave myself the time to read it and, as I’ve so scattertedly stated, it made me feel things altogether new.

Whether these things will have a long term impact is unknown. If the goal was to incite a visceral response on any end of the spectrum, the author succeeded and I believe that’s what every writer wants.

I certainly want that. I want to live in my work, but not through it. I want to find my own witchy Zelda Fitzgerald, but I don’t want the wintry chasm she had in between her and her husband. I want to be remembered, but I don’t want to be fictionalized.

This novel is still settling with me. It is an extraordinary blend of reality and fantasy. A perfect how-to guide to destroy my life and die young.

This is a book that, if anything, teaches the dangers of excess.

Books Half Finished

I’m reading again. New year, new book. I hesitate to write this (don’t I always), but, sometimes, pain can be relieved by bleeding through a pen.

I won’t name the book I’m reading, but it has characters very similar to the people in my life. Not all of them of course, but enough to draw parallels. I have always been guilty of inserting myself into the stories I read, but sometimes (on very few occasions) it is without fault. Qualities that soak every fiber of my being and words that might as well come out of those unnamed acquaintances’ mouths permeate my mind. There smiles are in my mind’s eye on the faces of my loved ones. Their defeats are felt in my very core.

Their flaws are my flaws.

I believe that every life can be summarized by a novel. That’s the sole purpose for biographies. An entire person’s existence bound in a few hundred pages. One day, a biographer will pour over my works and try to decipher my innermost thoughts. They will try to pull from endless words and meaningless sentences what I have yet to understand. What story will my book tell?

I am halfway through this current book and the situations, all too familiar, blur with reality. Both being clear from one another, but are so close together that involvement is the only way to discern one from the other. The last event I read before having to put the book down was heart wrenching. My stomach and heart crushed together, by lungs expelled all air, and my mind stopped. Fire rose inside of my being and I wanted to shout. My current position is behind a desk working at the library, so this was not an option. That reality raised the pressure even more.

My intelligent thoughts drank themselves into a stupor. My romantic side slit its wrists. My reason tore of its ears and gouged out its eyes. As I write this, my hands are shaking and my jaw is clenched. Is this instability? Is my pain so visceral because I see it as a distinct possibility in my life, or have I been miscasting the characters? Am I the perpetrator? Am I the impetus of the injustice? Will my involvement in this world amount to a devastating chapter in someone else’s story?

These cursed thoughts put me at a crossroads. Should I devote my life to establishing a legacy that others can draw from as I have drawn from others, even though this sort of drive is what fed the roots of the injustice in the first place, or should I live my life for myself and only myself, resulting in nothing but pain and jealousy in someone else’s life?

An inner rage tantamount to Krakatoa is refusing to be abated by thoughts of comfort. Reminders that the lives of others cannot be compared to mine fairly. I will never know anyone’s whole story but my own. These inklings of relief dissipate like snow in the palm of flame. I am angry. I am furious. I am unabashedly disappointed. In myself, for actions of the past. In others, for my keen insight to their humanity. In this damned book, for even bringing these emotions into being.

I know the book has no fault. I showed interest in it and it was gifted to me. Every event entwined with the book make the pain of the dramatized non-fictional event even sharper. Specific points in my memory, in my heart, have been targeted and annihilated. Flaws I try so hard to bury, parallels I try so hard to ignore, feelings I try so hard to deny invade and drown me.

In times of crisis, I have always looked to my idols for solace. I try to find some event that matches what I feel and what I read in the damned book that can offer a peaceful resolve, but I only find more pain. The same injustice has occurred with unyielding disregard for the parties who would be hurt most. What sort of cosmic joke could this be? The people I look to for guidance have suffered the very same injustice. Either as the perpetrator or the victim. There are no answers for me and I am only at the forefront of it.

The reality is, I have nothing to go to. I am in solitude with my hidden anguish and unmatched fury. My mouth tastes of iron. My chest is heaving with deep breaths. My muscles are tightened. The actors whose talents I want to gain, the revolutionaries whose intelligence I want to harness, the loved ones whose emotions strengthen my resolves are nowhere to be found. I’m in a wasteland of indecision and fire.

Only a few days ago I felt the exact opposite of this. Now, the things I found comfort in are the things I find hatred in. Double thoughts and self-betrayal reign in my mind. The speeding locomotive of joy I had has shattered and burned across a thousand sheer cliffs. I see no difference in the ink of my pen or the blood in my veins. They are both instruments for writing my story. I use both to establish my legacy, but at what cost?

I am only twenty one years old and I am continually plagued by thoughts of my future. That plague has now infected my entire being. This virus of what I will become poisons every thought. Every movement I make is pushing me closer to unleashing a self-destructive tornado of emotions. A whirlwind of pain. A storm of words.

No one deserves to be at the mercy of someone else’s pain. The only way I can sate the storm is to write. Write everything. Open my eyes. See past my insecurity. Weigh my options.

Not every decision I make will pull me forward, but I won’t let someone else’s mistake ever hurt me like this again.

As ever, I will write my way out.