During a talk on December 17, 2012, at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC, in which Phillip Seymour Hoffman spoke with New School of Social Research philosophy professor, Simon Critchley, about portraying unhappiness on stage and screen, there lies a moment of blazing insight into the struggles Hoffman was potentially grappling with.
When the interview was nearing an end, and Critchley was looking down at his notes for, as he said, "anything else intelligent to say", Hoffman leans in to ask, now in retrospect, a startling, naked question.
"So learning how to die is learning how to live?"
He faltered as he seemed to try to get the professor to take seriously the question and give a real answer.
Somewhat apologetically, he said this must be basic for the professor, but again asked with a shy intensity, "Is that what that means, right?"
The professor goes on to pontificate on philosophy and how Socrates accepted his death and the hemlock, when he didn't have to.
This was one moment when I wanted to jump into the screen and stop the action, for it was an urgent and immense moment, Hoffman's question, his vulnerable need, and it was lost in the haze of philosophical words.
It was also evidence of a classic balancing act that I imagined Hoffman to be grappling with.
The balancing act of being alive.
In his case, balancing life with death.
It seems he may have been asking about why he flirted with death.
Specifically, whether there was the redemption of knowing life more intimately from circling death.
I think that anyone who responded to Hoffman's death--be it with anger, shock, grief--felt also a ping of familiarity.
Though it may be difficult to consciously identify, there is a link between his story and our own.