If you know me, and I think you do, then you know that I am a huge Robert Duvall fan. Not in a creepy tie-him-to-the-chair type way, and not even in a drive-for-hours-and -sit-by-his-mailbox-hoping-he’ll-come-down-the-driveway way, but a fan in a quiet, worshipful way. Which is appropriate, because the man is a living legend. A god among men, if you will…and I most certainly will.
Let’s not even discuss The Godfather, and his work as consigliere Tom Hagen. (Okay, we can discuss it, but let’s be succinct: freakin’ brilliant.) And we don’t need to dwell on his performance in Apocalypse Now, other than to say it was phenomenal – and created a whole new appreciation for the aromatic delight of chemical warfare. To Kill a Mockingbird? He did more silently than most actors do with words. Tender Mercies? Please! You can be broken and out of cash at my motel anytime, Sir. The Apostle? Praise the Lord and pass the baseball bat. Secondhand Lions? Rambling Rose? If you haven’t seen any of these movies, stop reading right now and go. Go, see them, and know that your life has been improved by sharing the planet with Robert Duvall. You’re welcome.
But the real killer, the Duvall performance that slays, is Lonesome Dove. I didn’t recommend it in the list above because it’s not for the weak or faint-hearted, for no other reason than it’s that good. I don’t know what you can handle.
Sometimes, when I am supposed to be doing other things, like reading philosophy texts (summation: I am I. Am I, I? What is the nature of I? If I am I, what is the nature of my being? What is my relationship to God, the one I Am?), I allow my mind to wander to other, more pleasant, things, like lobotomizing myself with a #2 pencil, or meeting Robert Duvall.
Rudolf Otto, a German theologian, wrote a book called Das Heilige in 1917; (later published in English as “The Idea of the Holy”), attempting to describe what being in the presence of God is like for those who believe. Otto called the experience of the numinous – the holy, overwhelming, all-encompassing omnipotent grace of divinity – the mysterium tremendums et fascinans, an event that is at once awe-inspiring, fascinating, and mysterious.
Granted, I’ve been awe-struck before: by a beer that was perfectly ice cold, by the folds of Mary’s dress in Michelangelo’s Pietà, by a pear I bought from a street fruit vendor in Venice in 1989. And I will certainly concede that there are fascinating places and people in the world, and mysteries unfolding in the universe, like what exactly are they doing at the Large Haldron Collider? And why do Belgians persist in putting mayonnaise on their French fries? And how did generations of kids miss the fact that the Oompa Loompas were really an insidious orange army, hauling out the dead for their dark overlord, Willy Wonka?
But to have all three – awe, fascination, and mystery – in one place, much less embodied in one person, is an incredibly rare occurrence. And with all appropriate apologies to my Rudolf Otto and my theology professors (who surely have better things to do than read this), I suggest to you that, were one given the opportunity to actually stand in the presence of Robert Duvall, mysterium tremendums et fascinans would be the only appropriate response.
Met or unmet, seen or unseen, Duvall aderit. Amen!