The Last Station

James Fucking McAvoyI just watched The Last Station, a gorgeous movie about the last days of Tolstoy. Predictably, it has torn the heart right out of me.

I’m going to level with you. I bought this movie because it stars James McAvoy, for whom I appear to have developed a sudden and inexplicable passion.

If you follow me on Pinterest, I apologize for the overwhelming amount of McAvoy spam I have subjected you to lately. But these things, they happen. It’s been a while since I’ve been taken like this by an actor, and what the hell. I’m just enjoying it while it lasts.

So for a McAvoy lover, which apparently I now am, this movie seriously delivered the goods. Oh, sweet, vulnerable, teary-eyed McAvoy. It made so much sense to me the other day when I read in an interview that you were inspired to act by Andrew McCarthy, specifically because of how emotionally vulnerable he was as an actor in his heyday, and you so admired that.

That’s right, Andrew McCarthy had a heyday. Look it up. It’s filed right under John Motherfucking Hughes.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you about, actually. No, really! We can moon over McAvoy another time. And I’m sure we will, I’m sure we will.

The thing of it is, this movie — and especially Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy in this movie — reminded me so much of my great grandfather, Pop, I could almost smell his pipe.

You already know that I knew my great grandparents, that I grew up just a few doors down from their beautiful old house with its steep spiral staircase and large bow window. You mostly know this because I tend to reminisce about my great grandmother, Minnie. I have her recipe box. I have her copy of Jane Eyre. I have her picture.

Quite honestly, I think I write about her more just because I have her things.

I don’t have anything of Pop’s, though, which sucks. And I remember Pop so much more, because he lived down the road even after Minnie went into the nursing home in Orleans.

I’d go down to the old house and visit him after school, and there he’d be, sitting in the middle of the living room in his brown overstuffed chair, surrounded by billows and billows of delicious smelling pipe smoke.

Well, I always thought it was delicious. The house reeked of pipe smoke, even when he wasn’t there. Once, he taught me how to fill his pipe for him, but only because I begged, and because we were alone. I don’t think he thought it proper for a young girl to handle tobacco. But he was kind of a sucker for me, I think.

I used to have the most enormous blue eyes, you see.

His blue eyes were dim and rheumy, as they will be when you live to be a hundred and one years old. He used to celebrate his birthdays with us sometimes, at our house, because he shared a birthday with my brother Sean. September 25. It’s almost on us now. Pop’s birthday. Sean’s birthday.

So this movie. Right. This damn movie.

In it, Tolstoy has a great big white beard, just like Pop had. And he’s also got this crazy, intense, troubled, at times hugely histrionic love affair with his wife of 48 years. Much of the story centers around their relationship, and how the people around Tolstoy tried to intervene in it.

Folks, you cannot intervene in a marriage of 48 years.

Pop and Minnie were not histrionic, at least not to my memory. I mean, sure, what do I know — I only knew them for a few short years out of their long, long marriage, and I was just a kid. But holy god did they have a long, long marriage. They each lived to be over a hundred years old. They were together, at least as sweethearts, since they were about 19 years old.

People, that is one seriously long time to be together.

I used to have a picture of them, sitting on the front porch of some other old house in town. They’re sitting close to each other, hip to hip, his trouser waist high up against his ribcage, her flowered dress trim and light against her neat little shoulders. Their hands are clasped together, folded loosely together in one or the other’s lap, I can’t recall which.

I also remember seeing another photograph of them, when they were in their 90s, at some anniversary or other. Holding hands, smiling vaguely up at the camera, but mostly just holding hands, the pair of them.

Every time we went to visit Minnie at the nursing home, that’s what he’d do. He’d sit right down next to her and take her hand in his, cradle it gently in both of his, and say Hello dear. Hello.

That’s all. That’s all I wanted to tell you about this movie that was about Tolstoy and his wife, and that starred a heartbreakingly vulnerable James McAvoy. That’s it.

3 Thoughts.

  1. love this post. i too, had a Pop, my grand, (not greatgrand) father. he also had a pipe, that he only smoked when i was very little. to this day, i still LOVE the smell of a pipe and it always makes me think of him. he died 14 years ago, the day before you posted this.

  2. That’s awesome that your Pop had a pipe, too! I even tried taking up pipe smoking very briefly once, in college, entirely because I wanted to summon his memory again and carry it with me. I found I couldn’t keep the thing lit, so I gave it up.

    It’s funny, because in retrospect it makes sense that Tolstoy’s huge white beard in this movie was what triggered all these memories of Pop — but really it was realizing at the end of the movie that McAvoy’s character would have been almost exactly Pop’s age — they would have been born about the same time. That’s one of the things that consistently slays me about history — buried underneath dry old biographies, three-line obituaries, and perfunctory entries in ledgers, are these big, heartbreaking stories. And that underneath a great white beard and the skin of a 101-year-old man is the bumbling youth from 1910, falling in love for the first, and only time. That’s what splits me open.

  3. If you love McAvoy, you must watch Rory O’shea was here. It is a great movie! His character is caring, funny, and inspirational, and sad at the end.

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