In Memorium: Anton Yelchin (1989-2016)

If Orlando Bloom were less hunky and more of an artist and a quintessential take-home-to-parents boy, the result would have been Anton Yelchin. Yelchin, who died at his California residence in a freak parking-gate accident early on Sunday morning, was one of our generation’s finest and most promising young actors. As with many future legends who died before their time, he was 27: an age that puts him in esteemed but tragic company.

Except for his close friends and directors who worked with him, nobody can really truly write an honest piece about what a great and generous guy he was. I would like to, but I cannot, even though I feel like he is THAT guy – the kind-looking, humble and funny actor who doesn’t quite ever let on how famous he really is. Instead, I would like to write about what he has – and could have – achieved as a face on the screen. Everyone knows him (and annoyingly refers to him) as the Star Trek "Russian" Pavel Chekhov, but that would be doing a grave disservice to the talent that led him into the franchise. For many Indian viewers, Yelchin, who is of Russian origin and belonged to a family of figure skaters that migrated to America, last appeared in Vidhu Vinod Chopra‘s doomed Hollywood remake of Parinda, Broken Horses. But, even there, even though he was miscast in a ‘Western‘, his face would always ooze so much sincerity and commitment, it’d be impossible to begrudge him the rare high points of the film.

Personally, for me, Anton Yelchin was the face of one of my favorite films of all time. In 2011, as I found myself at the confusing crossroads of my own personal life, I watched Drake DoromosSundance-winning indie, Like Crazy – which also starred the beautiful Felicity Jones, and a pre-Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence. The film, which was shot ad-hoc, without a script, with just a general idea of how an American boy and a British girl would fall in love and try to maintain a modern long-distance relationship against all odds in the prime of their lives, belonged to Yelchin in many ways. He defined the direction of most “awkward” initial conversations, followed by the conflicts and jealousy and insecurities that followed in their relationship, playing a promising young carpenter with great intuition. This wasn’t the first time I had seen him on screen, of course. But it was the first time I had taken him home with me, despite his career-turning performance in Jon Poll‘s college drug-comedy Charlie Bartlett. He was almost 20 in this film, and a year later, he appeared in one of the short films of the romantic anthology ‘New York, I Love You‘. In Brett Ratner‘s short film about a reluctant boy who takes a pretty disabled girl (Olivia Thirby) to the prom, Yelchin is all thumbs-and-needles yin to Thirby’s bold yang, and leaves you smiling and giddy after his night with her in Central Park. He was also noted for his roles in sexy Vampire thriller, Only Lovers Left Alive, and brutal punk-rock skinhead drama, Green Room.

His upcoming films, Star Trek Beyond, We Don’t Belong Here and Porto will release within a year after his death, while the industry and his growing legion of fans around the world still try to come to terms with this loss. Though he hadn’t yet been nominated for any individual awards, you sensed this was only the beginning, and this aberration wouldn’t last for long. He was an indie darling for most upcoming filmmakers, with several VOD and selected-screen releases, balancing his mainstream sensibilities to afford the roles he really wanted. 

There’s a scene in Like Crazy, where Felicity Jones, who has been denied entry into America after overstaying her last visa, is escorted back to the plane to the UK, only seconds away from meeting Yelchin, who is waiting with flowers at the door. When she leaves, she senses this could well spell the end of their tough predicament of love – and his eyes, as she goes back up the escalators, look shattered, like a puppy being denied the right to live. At that moment, she senses that they may never see each other again in person. Not for a long, long time. 

I’m going to sit down and watch the scene, and the film, and wonder how bitterly true it turned out to be. And this time, let the tears flow. He deserves our emotions. As does his family.  

27 is no time to go. 


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