Severus Snape is one of my favorite characters in any story, ever. When Harry looked through that Pensieve in Deathly Hallows and saw the truth of his life—all of the fear, the anger, the regret, the love, the courage—it felt like we had all done wrong by Snape somehow. That we had let him live a life of silent sadness, all while he was trying to atone for his mistakes and make things right. I put the book down after that chapter, even with the end so near. I needed to reconsider everything I had ever thought about Snape, and, in all honesty, to take a moment to mourn.
The character that J.K. Rowling created on the page seems almost impossible to pull off when you think about it. Complicated in every way, every line of dialogue, action, and look from Snape is so wrapped up in myriad conflicting emotions and desires it almost seems too much to conceivably bring to life on the screen.
Which is why it had to be Alan Rickman to do it.
Think about your very favorite of Rickman’s roles. Now try to imagine literally anyone else portraying that character. You can’t. Every part he ever played feels like it could only have been handled by him; he was that talented. Any movie he was in was instantly better because he was in it. He could make a villain like Hans Gruber or the Sheriff of Nottingham into the best part of his movie, or turn a bitter old has-been into a sympathetic hero in Galaxy Quest. His voice alone was enough to make another wonderful character from literature, Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as perfect on the screen as he was on the page.
His ability to be so many things at once is why he was able to truly become Snape, equal in greatness to the one created by Rowling. It was just two months ago that I wrote this about the character:
“He was a Death Eater responsible for the death of the only person he ever seemed to love, yet a courageous protector of that woman’s child at great personal risk to himself. A spiteful, petty man full of jealousy, yet one that sacrificed himself in many ways to protect others. Snape is complicated, a genius who is capable of the most base human emotions, whose actions in life range from truly monstrous to unfathomably heroic.”
When you cast someone to play a role like this, you are asking that actor to be everything at once. To do it in a way that hides it in the moment, yet reveals it when you look back. Like I said, it seems almost impossible to pull off. Now think about the type of person that could do it. It has to be someone with a warmth and humanity that allows them to empathize with a character in so much pain, so deeply, that they could show that character’s value as a person to us.
Watch any of Rickman’s scenes as Snape where he has to do something difficult and you’ll see it. Watch him kill Dumbledore, or as he observes his colleague being tortured by Voldemort. Or just watch him hold Lily’s body again. Alan Rickman brought all of that humanity to life, like he did with all of his roles. It’s a great testament to his skill as a performer, but a far better tribute to him as person.
When Snape died I felt a personal loss. I feel the same way today. Alan Rickman always managed to make his characters worthy of being loved, not in spite of their flaws, but because of them. What greater gift can any of us offer anyone?
Snape should have been an impossible part to play for any man, but Alan Rickman’s humanity made it possible. It seems impossible that he’s gone now.
In all honesty, I’m going to need more than a moment to mourn this time.
Images: Warner Bros.