The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman had to be complex person to summon so many great characters. What a lot of people don’t know is that the actor, miles from the stereotype of spoiled movie star, was also a wise purveyor of great advice—at least in my imagination.
What still fewer know is that he continues to advise and inspire from beyond the grave.
When a drug overdose took Hoffman’s life last winter it was a shock to film lovers everywhere. The incident renewed our awareness of the horrible power of drug abuse, even over a man at the height of success. It also reminded us in a more general sense that suffering exists behind the steeliest face, the burliest demeanor and the boldest baritone. Personal darkness is the source of all art, perhaps because it is also the source of great pain.
As for me, I am so far undistinguished. I’m not complaining, I’m healthy, happy and on track. My point is that I’m not above advice, especially from someone talented, artistically-minded and frustrated by other people.
I’m not one to view dreams as augurs of the future or existential metaphors—I’m happy to view them as fascinating, mysterious absurdities. Lately, I’ve experienced a rather disappointing stretch of SSRI induced humdrum, so when PSH darkened the door of my subconscious, I welcomed him with open arms.
In the dream, I’d just started a new job. I was doing well, but badly needing some sort of positive feedback as I had not yet realized that in the world of business, hearing nothing back but a ‘thank you’ after submitting an assignment is pretty much the best you can hope for. I had a spacious office, large enough that a coworker lost her shoes there the night of the Christmas party. There were three desks: one on which I worked, another that held a dozen lamps and third that was always empty.
One day, as I sat working, PSH shuffled in, unkempt, flushed, with a thin layer of sweat on his forehead. He sat at the empty desk and as I continued to work, I was distracted by the rattling of steel cabinets and rustling of papers.
“Let me tell you something, kid,” Hoffman said after a few minutes. I swiveled around and watched him rub his face, his voice muffled though his hands. “There is no justice in the world, when you do something good, make sure of one thing.”
“Make sure you get credit for it. If you don’t, you can be sure someone else will take it.” Then he got up, walked out and never came back.
It would be disrespectful folly to try to speculate the nature of Hoffman’s suffering—to comb his performances for patterns that would suggest some sort of childhood trauma or a bad breakup. The reason, if such reasons exists, should be left in the realm of those closest to Hoffman the man.
So when I say I believe the images I saw on screen since I first saw Hoffman’s “Scottie J” in Boogie Nights formed a collective wisdom that I apparently carry around inside, I speak to the power of art to travel through an elite craftsman, directly to the viewers’ inner cores.
I never met Phillip Seymour Hoffman and I’m sure there was a lot more to him than the roles he played, but I thank him for creating something authentic that I can only consider a unique part of myself, the enthusiast. It’s the stuff of dreams.