“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”
-Peter S. Beagle in The Last Unicorn.
I have recently become fascinated with the character of Richard Harrow in HBO’s acclaimed drama Boardwalk Empire. Richard, the World War One sniper who survived the war, but lost half his face in the process.
Richard: equal parts ruthless killing machine, kind soul, tender and careful with those he loves, and loyal to the bitter end.
His facial disfigurement leads him to constantly wear a tin mask over the left side of his face, a wound which pushes him to the fringes of society. Small children become horrified and scream when he unwittingly allows them to see him maskless. Society brands him a monster and few will engage with him in any meaningful way.
To the people who befriend him in spite of the society which dictates he should be ignored, he is fiercely devoted. Killing bad men to keep them safe? No problem. Richard is, after all, a highly trained and exceptional marksman, especially considering he’s only working with one eye.
But despite his ability for brutality, he is gentle and kind. He keeps a secret scrapbook of his dreams… having a little family, falling in love and having a quiet, happy life.
Despite our very dissimilar backgrounds, I started identifying with his character early on. He feels he is an outsider, I often do too. He is shy and reluctant to speak, I am too (blogs are another beast altogether and really don’t count as speaking). We both have inner demons to battle. While I have had no training with any kind of serious weaponry, I would protect my friends and family to my last breath. And of course we both contend with wounded bodies. His hurts are larger and much more obvious than mine, but it’s close enough for me to bond with him over, and also inspire myself with in times when I’m tired of dragging my uncooperative body along through yet another day.
Through the past three seasons of Boardwalk Empire, Richard has come more and more into my focus. I found myself hoping for more and more Richard scenes each episode. And while the show is too rich, detailed and engaging to ever become solely “The Richard Show” to me, it veers that way often.
And after last season’s heart-in-your-throat-the-entire-time finale? Oh my god. I will refrain from saying anything in detail so I don’t spoil it for anyone who isn’t there yet… but OH MY GOD. WHAT RICHARD DOES. I already loved him but now he has shifted into my permanent mental file of characters to draw upon in times of trial and peril. Characters who inspire me to keep on when I want to give up, with their purity, love, devotion, strength, tenacity and selflessness.
For anyone who has already seen it, this is what I’m referring to.
Richard has obviously had a huge impact on me. And as usually happens with things which have a big impact on me, I wanted to turn it into a photo. I crafted a bandage to cover my left eye, with symbolic blood droplets on it (as a side note, I am nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other, and having the bandage covering just one eye for the 20-30 minutes it took to shoot this was AWFUL for my head. I finally stopped because I knew a migraine was just around the corner if I didn’t.) My very generous brother lent me his (sharp!) dagger and I posed in front of the dollhouse my dad built for me when I was about five. That seemed like the perfect symbol of innocence, as well as being personally meaningful to me.
This is my tribute to Richard; his strength, loyalty, fierceness and protection of innocence. And hey, Jack Huston, if you somehow came across this, have your publicist contact me!