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The Hero with Two Hundred Faces

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Photo: Donald Sutherland, Source: GettyImages
Photo: Donald Sutherland, Source: GettyImages

It feels as if he has always been there, as long as modern Western cinema has existed. A charismatic workaholic actor who played over two hundred roles in films and on television, incredibly striking and memorable from the first time. However, the end credits are inevitable—Canadian actor Donald Sutherland has passed away at the age of 88, leaving behind a whole gallery of characters worth watching films for.

"With a heavy heart, I inform you that my father, Donald Sutherland, has passed away. Personally, I consider him one of the most important actors in cinema history. He was never afraid of a role, whether good, bad, or ugly. He loved what he did and did what he loved, and you can't ask for more. A life well-lived," wrote the late actor's son, famous Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland.

Indeed, if you managed to star in films by Fellini and Bertolucci but did not become petrified on the pedestal of great auteur cinema, simply continuing to act and satisfying the demands of both highbrow intellectual film critics and those who enjoy simple blockbusters, then you can consider your life a success. And how you are remembered—as the flamboyant Casanova, the brutal Attila, or the treacherous President Coriolanus Snow in the dystopian Panem—is not so important. Despite a sixty-year film career, for younger generations, Sutherland will remain the star of "The Hunger Games," while for older audiences, he is the main character of "Fellini's Casanova," the anti-hero of "1900," or the dramatic figure from the aesthetic psychological thriller "Don't Look Now" by Nicolas Roeg. Each viewer has their own Sutherland.


Photo: Despite a sixty-year film career, for younger generations, Sutherland will remain the star of "The Hunger Games", Source: Lionsgate

Donald Sutherland was born in Saint John, Canada, on July 17, 1935, to a travelling salesman and a homemaker. Initially intending to become an engineer, he developed a passion for theatre and obtained two degrees—one in engineering and one in acting. Young Sutherland performed in university theatre productions in Toronto, and in the mid-50s, he moved to England, where he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. During his studies, he actively performed on the stages of English theatres. His first film roles, thanks to his tall stature, piercing gaze, distinctive features, deep, slightly sinister voice, and charmingly demonic smile, were in horror films such as "Castle of the Living Dead," "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors," and "The Shuttered Room." On the sets of horror films, Sutherland met Christopher Lee (Saruman from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy), another incredible workaholic with an endlessly extensive filmography.

A convinced pacifist, Sutherland appeared in numerous war films that depict the horror and injustice of any war. He made it to Hollywood thanks to a role in Robert Aldrich's "The Dirty Dozen," but his first truly significant work was the role of surgeon Pierce in Robert Altman's satirical drama about the Korean War, "M*A*S*H." The film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1970, and its characters became beloved by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

The psychological thriller "Don't Look Now," about a couple who have lost a child and come to Venice to cope with the tragedy, became a stepping stone for Sutherland to work with the great Federico Fellini due to its daring erotic scene for those times. It was after this film that the Italian genius decided to cast the Canadian actor as the legendary Venetian lover. In the same year, 1976, Donald Sutherland starred in another major film—"1900" by Bernardo Bertolucci, where he played Attila, one of the most vivid portrayals of fascism in the history of cinema.


Among Sutherland's other significant works are Alan Pakula's "Klute," a paranoid neo-noir in which he had an affair with Jane Fonda during filming, Philip Kaufman's science fiction thriller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," Robert Redford's Oscar-winning psychological drama "Ordinary People," Joe Wright's adaptation of the classic "Pride and Prejudice," and Oliver Stone's political thriller "JFK."

Even in minor roles in purely commercial films like "Red Heat" with Schwarzenegger or the series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Sutherland managed to elevate the film by his mere presence and charisma. 

As critics often noted, "If Donald Sutherland is listed in the film's credits, the film may not necessarily be a masterpiece. But watching it, you definitely won't waste your time and will enjoy it."

Yes, Donald Sutherland became a sort of quality mark in cinema over his 60-year career, and it's hard to argue with that.


Photo: Mystical drama "Mr. Harrigan's Phone", Source: Blumhouse Productions, Netflix

His latest film work to date was the sentimental mystical drama "Mr. Harrigan's Phone" by John Lee Hancock, based on a short story by Stephen King. It is a touching and mysterious story about the friendship between a young boy and an elderly billionaire. In the plot, the tough and lonely billionaire hires a neighbourhood boy to read classic novels to him. While the young hero is introduced to classic literature, the old businessman absorbs the new era's spirit—the first iPhone, which the boy gives the old man for his birthday, becomes the connecting bridge between them. And when the billionaire dies, their connection through the mobile device continues.

Thus, through two hundred films and series, the connection between new generations of viewers and the uniquely talented actor, without whom the history of world cinema would be incomplete, will continue.



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