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Want to Be Emotionally Compromised? Here’s Oscar Isaac Reading Richard Feynman’s Letter to His Late Wife

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize recipient and one of the best-known physicists of his generation—he worked on the atomic bomb in the ’40s and later researched the Challenger shuttle disaster. Years after his death, one of Feynman’s unexpected legacies is a dryly humorous and crushingly sad letter he addressed to his late wife, Arline, who died when she was just 25. And if there’s anything that could render the letter even more tragic and arresting, it’s Oscar Isaac speaking Feynman’s words.

Letters of Note helped popularize Feynman’s letter after they published it under the headline “I love my wife. My wife is dead,” one of the letter’s most moving lines. Feynman wouldn’t have imagined the impact his words made: he wrote the letter in 1946, 16 months after Arline, his high school sweetheart, passed away from tuberculosis. Then he sealed up the letter and it went unopened until after his death in 1988.

Many of us are Oscar Isaac fans for his work in movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ex Machina, but Isaac is also a powerful stage actor. He’s warmly relatable as he performs Feynman’s letter for “Letters Live,” a production inspired by the Letters of Note website. (Initiated by Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company, you’ll find many letters read by Cumberbatch himself, plus his Sherlock co-stars Andrew Scott and Louise Brealey.) Isaac was the perfect choice for “To Arline.” Starting out with a casual air, he builds in intensity as the letter does, until he is visibly moved by the conclusion.

I’ve teared up twice while writing this post, with Isaac’s voice and Feynman’s words in the background. “To Arline” is a beautiful testament to the power of love, sent through time.

October 17, 1946

D’Arline,

I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can’t I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the “idea-woman” and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are surprised that I don’t even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can’t help it, darling, nor can I — I don’t understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

Rich.

PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don’t know your new address.

(via Letters of Note, Letters Live, image: screengrab)

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