I’ve belaboured expressing my opinion that the actor Daniel Day Lewis may as well have been bred in a lab for the sole purpose of playing Captain Ahab, so after this post I won’t mention it again. But some video evidence is wanting, so I’ve scoured Youtube for concise examples to illustrate my point in full before I drop it once and for all.
In the first clip, Lewis plays the antagonist Bill “the Butcher” Cutting in Scorcese’s Gangs of New York (2002). With the American flag draped around his neck and over his shoulders, Cutting talks to his protege and would-be assassin about his own obsessions. He describes what may as well be Ahab’s first encounter with the white whale and the event that inspired the megalomania which controls him. Not surprisingly, Cutting, like Ahab, has a scar down his face, the product of that first encounter. With the linguistic flair of Ahab, Cutting describes his violent methods and motivations. Be warned, this clip features some choice language and grisly descriptions and, as they say, may not be suitable for all viewers:
The next clip comes from Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), and features Lewis as the misanthropic oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. Here, speaking candidly to a stranger posing as his long lost brother, Plainview confesses his general hate for everything and everyone (apologies that you must click through. It won’t feature directly):
The trailer, again:
There. Have I convinced you? I hope so. But I must temper my argument with this: while I think Lewis is a robot constructed to the exact proportions of Melville’s Ahab, I am happy that his career circles, as it were, Ahab, rather than casting a harpoon into him directly. Something in the imagination dies when a character from a book is commandeered, often poached, by the performance of a living, breathing actor. For the reader, Ahab is like the white whale: valuable because he is pursued.