Friday, March 18, 2005

Father Mapple's Sermon From Moby-Dick

orson welles as father mapple
As Rendered By Orson Welles in John Huston's Filmed Version of Herman Melville's Novel, The Whale. Or As It Is Commonly Known, Moby-Dick:

AND GOD PREPARED A GREAT FISH TO SWALLOW UP JONAH...

Shipmates, the sin of Jonah was in his disobedience of the command of God. He found it a hard command. And it was, Shipmates. For all of the things that God would have us do are hard. If we would obey God, we must disobey ourselves. But Jonah still further flaunts at God by seeking to flee from Him. Jonah thinks that a ship, made by man, will carry him into countries where God does not reign.

He prowls among the shipping like a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas. And as he comes aboard, the sailor's mark him. The ship puts out. But soon the sea rebels. It will not bear the wicked burden. A dreadful storm comes up. The ship is like to break. The bosun calls all hands to lighten her: boxes, bails, and jars are clattering overboard. The wind is shrieking. The men are yelling.

- I fear the Lord! cries Jonah. The God of Heaven who hath made the sea and the dry land!

Again, the sailors mark him: Wretched Jonah cries out to Him! Cast him overboard. For he knew.

For his sake, this great tempest was upon them.

Now behold Jonah: taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea, into the dreadful jaws awaiting him.

And the Great Whale shuts to all his ivory teeth like so many white bolts upon his prison. And Jonah cries unto the Lord, out of the fish's belly. But observe his prayer, Shipmates. He doesn't weep or wail. He feels his punishment is just. He leaves deliverance to God. And even out of the belly of Hell, grounded upon the ocean's utmost bones, God heard him when he cried.

And God spake unto the Whale. And from the shuddering cold and blackness of the deep, the Whale breeched into the sun and vomited out Jonah on the dry land. And Jonah, bruised and beaten, his ears like two seashells, still mutlitudinously murmuring of the ocean, Jonah did the Almighty's bidding.

And what was that, Shipmates? TO PREACH THE TRUTH IN THE FACE OF FALSEHOOD.

Now Shipmates, woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the troubled waters when God has brewed them into a gale. Yea, woe to him who, as the Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway. But delight is to him who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth stands forth his own inexorable self, who destroys all sin, though he pluck it out from the robes of senators and judges! And Eternal Delight shall be his, who coming to lay him down can say:

- Oh Father, mortal or immortal, here I die.
I have driven to be thine,
more than to be this world's or mine own,
yet this is nothing
I leave eternity to Thee.

For what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?

job and the whale


In Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, David Thompson writes:

Welles did his own text, and then, when gently pressed, he did Huston's. It is magnificent, thunderous and as incantatory as Melville's prose. No actor could kill or waste the speech - but only someone of Welles's grandeur could do it justice. Here is proof that on the grand scale of voice, physique and imaginative reach he was a noble actor - a stage actor, someone to fill a large hall. Yet there is more. As Mapple pursues the Jonah story to its end, and Jonah speaks to God, Huston used the close-up to cover Welles's heartrending "For what is man that he should outlive the lifetime of his God? Suddenly, we see an old man, or one alert to mortality. The last line is nearly a whisper; it was the most delicate thing Welles had done in forty years. Always uneasy with youth, he had some intimation of the grave, solitary splendor of old age. It is there in his Mapple. The crew gave him an ovation when he had finished. Huston chuckled at his own acute enterprise, and Welles bellowed with relief. If he had never done anything else, you would say, "Good God, what was that?"

5 comments:

Phil said...

The last line says it all; if Welles had done nothing else, this would have been enough. If I myself could have but one shining moment equal to Welles' performance as Father Mapple, I too might feel it was enough.

Alana Keres said...

"And Jonah, bruised and beaten, his ears like two seashells, still mutlitudinously murmuring of the ocean, Jonah did the Almighty's bidding."

Yes, I too enjoy that freshly-vomited-up-from-the-Beast aroma in the morning, as seashells murmur --perhaps not multitudinously-- of oceans where el God and der Beast may one day ca\v/ort.

How shall we inflect the word 'bidding' in this tale? It plays petitionary beyond its inflated edge. School us.

Alana Keres said...

Oh, and Happy BreathDay.

Anonymous said...

If sermons in church were anywhere near this level of intensity, I'd be a regular. It makes you want to go back and read the story of Jonah all over again, and perhaps revisit old testament stories where God was directly accessable and judgement was severe. Welles delivery of the sermon is among the most riveting speaches in movie history.

RF Burns said...
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