A Eulogy For Severus Snape
Without trying to take anything away from the titan that was Alan Rickman, I need to spend a minute mourning the loss of Severus Snape. It’s not that I love Snape the character more than Rickman’s other roles (Colonel Brandon, Metatron, The Sheriff of Nottingham, etc. etc. etc.) or that I believed he performed this one better than others (I never saw a performance of his that was less than joyfully entertaining). It’s that from the moment Rickman first appeared on screen as Severus Snape, that character belonged wholly to him.
Yes, J.K. Rowling wrote the amazingly complex character, but Rickman brought him to life. And thank god it was him because if we’re being honest, Snape could have easily devolved into an whiny, emo asshole. Every compelling elements of Snape’s personality hinges on the layering of his emotions. Think about the most basic element of Snape’s character: he’s spent literally decades not getting over a girl who rejected him in high school, he’s fostered a long festering hatred of the dead man who bullied him as a child, and he takes all of that anger out on a child whose only crime is having those two people as parents. That guy is an asshole.
And played by the wrong actor, we’d only ever think of Snape as an asshole. His redemption plot would be completely wasted if we didn’t believe he had that level of bravery and nobility in him. Rickman managed to take the basic facts of Snape, and layer the emotional complexity needed to build his character into almost every scene. Snape actually mistreats Harry in part because of his long standing grudge against James, but also because 1.) he needs to maintain his cover in case the Dark Lord does return 2.) Harry is the human embodiment of the ways in which he betrayed and failed the love of his life Lily 3.) Harry is also kind of a little shit and most teachers not charmed by his bullshit would dislike him. Rickman needed to make all of those things clear while still maintaining some mystery about Snape’s intentions and motivations.
And you know what? He fucking did it. Rickman took all of the layers of Snape’s character, and laid them bare for us. He offered complete transparency in a way that was never obvious. He made everything about Snape completely understandable not in spite of, but by being subtle. Which is almost an unimaginably hard thing to do. Rickman cut through all of the ways in which Snape could have become a caricature, and played the role for what it was: a man who spent his whole life trying to right his most terrible wrong.
For a lot of people, the affection they feel for Severus Snape is why they feel connected to Rickman. I understand it. Snape is surprisingly one of the most honorable characters in the series without being bland about it. But people who like Rickman because of Snape have it backwards. Rickman had an entire career playing people other than Snape, but Snape couldn’t have been anyone but him. Rickman was the actor born to play that role, and by exposing the humanity we knew Snape had in him, Rickman made us love both of them that much more for it.
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