You can’t take a picture of this – it’s already gone

For all of those who thought that after weeks and months of me going on about Six Feet Under you were finally rid of wafflings about the Fisher family, I’m afraid you were popping the champagne corks too early.

So, what brings on this bout of raising the dead? Frankly, I’m not quite sure. I’ve been in a strange mood all day, and the last few minutes of “Everyone Waits”, the final episode of Six Feet Under, kept coming to my mind. Mostly in fragments: a bit of Late Nate Jr. singing “I Just Wanna Celebrate (Another Day of Life)” against a blinding white background, a bit of Sia’s “Breathe Me”. But mostly one short scene: as Claire says farewell to her family, she takes out her camera to take a picture. As she looks at them through the viewfinder, Nate stands behind her, telling her “You can’t take a picture of this; it’s already gone.”

You can’t take a picture of this - it’s already gone.

And it’s this line that’s been running around in my head. Taken out of context – by which I mean the whole scene, the episode and indeed the entire series – it’s nothingy. It even seems trite at first, like a slightly reformulated Seize the Day-type motto. But there’s more to it. The context adds layers. Is it about Claire’s constant attempts, as an artist, to capture something; call it the truth, the spirit of the moment, or just pretentious twaddle? Is he telling her not to hold on to moments, because those moments become the past immediately, and while you’re busy trying to hold on to it, you miss out on life? Is he telling her that life is fleeting? We all could drop dead from a brain aneurysm, be shot, die in a car accident, or have our heads crushed by blue ice falling from a plane passing overhead?

Probably there’s something of all of these in Nate’s cryptic sentence, but what kept coming back to me isn’t just what he says or how he says it. It’s the fact that Claire, after Nate has said his bit, takes the photo anyway.

What is it about this moment that keeps coming back to me? On the one hand it’s the sentence itself, and if I try to reformulate what it means to me, it just becomes trite. On the other hand, it’s Claire’s defiance: yes, the moment is fleeting, yes, tomorrow we shall die, yes, sooner or later we will lose everything we have to time (there I go, getting all trite, even though I said I wouldn’t…) – but she takes the photo anyway. Against hope, against reality, against her better knowledge, she tries to hold on to the moment. A lesser series would have had her take the photo, and only then Nate tells her that what she just did was futile. So much of Six Feet Under was about defying that futility – to hold on to what we have already lost, and to honour it in everything we do in the present. It’s already gone – and personally I dread the moment we accept that and move on without looking back. I hope with all my heart to know fully well that I can’t hold on to the present moment, and nevertheless to do so.

P.S.: Next time, more HBO – and Peter Pan, by way of overrated Swiss directors. At least that’s what I’ve got planned. Yes, I actually plan these things in advance. Sad, isn’t it?

20 thoughts on “You can’t take a picture of this – it’s already gone

  1. gremos Apr 18, 2008 / 00:06

    so true. I was looking for someone to explain why that one sentence keeps on repeating in my head and I think you’ve done it. thx

  2. Christian May 11, 2008 / 20:19

    great point. this theme is played over and over and over again throughout this series. at the end, we’re all entertained by the struggle but i think the show ends and the jury is still out on this concept…

    i have always focused on, and related to, Nate’s approach about life. moments pass and trying to hold them is not only futile but leads down a path less fulfilling. Nate’s philosophy of living fully in the moment and letting it go when it passes has always made sense to me.

    case in point: Claire has all of her artwork surrounding her death bad– all these beautiful pictures hanging around her room that, we hope, bring her comfort in her final moments. But when they draw closely on her eyes she has severe cataracts– her eyes are completely clouded over. is that a statement about the futility of all the photos?

  3. Thirith May 12, 2008 / 08:47

    I don’t think it’s futility – if you look at the smile on her face, I’d say she remembers everything. She’s got all of those pictures in her head. In a way, I think the last 8 minutes of the episode happen in young Claire’s mind as much as in old Claire’s memory.

    As far as Nate is concerned, there’s both his “living fully in the moment”, but he’s also increasingly self-serving and selfish throughout seasons 4 and 5. “What gives me immediate gratification?” While Claire in some ways grows up, as do David and even Ruth, Nate regresses to childhood. I love the character, but in some ways it’s good for him that he dies when he does, because he becomes more and more of a prick.

  4. Allan Oct 16, 2008 / 21:53

    Very interesting interpretation, and it makes a lot of sense too. Funny thing is that the phrase that Nate makes to Claire before she snaps the photo has been haunting me for many months! “YOU CAN’T TAKE A PICTURE OF THIS, IT’S ALREADY GONE”. Wow!! This can be taken so many ways I think. The thing about is, is that Nate is already dead in this particular scene when he makes the statement. Does Claire actually hear this? Is she thinking this? Or is the writer trying to make a point?

    We know that throughout the series there are many references made with the ghostly appirations of dead people. Many of them are either in a dream sequence, a moment of thought / ponder, or just an out and out unexplainable appearence which adds to the mystique of Six Feet Under. Great stuff! My interpretation of Nate’s statement to Claire parallels the above explanation. But I still can’t get those words out of my head for some reason!

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  6. jamie Feb 22, 2009 / 15:18

    Thank you for this post. I just finished the series last night and have also been playing that sentence in my head – so much that I just googled the entire sentence and found your blog. Your interpretation is very helpful.

  7. dayvs Mar 31, 2009 / 04:28

    i think in a way, the phrase encompasses all those things that have been said on this post, but in a good way. althought you may have lived every moment fully, it’s inevitable that it has to end, so, when nate says “YOU CAN’T TAKE A PICTURE OF THIS,IT’S ALREADY GONE”, he’s not actually saying to claire not to take the picture, but he is explaining to her that, as much as claire wants to hold on to this moment, this life stage is over, and it’s not coming back, so i really hope you’ve enjoyed those moments, ’cause now, as painful and dificult as it its, it’s time to move on, and yes, you can capture all the important moments in a picture as much as you want, but you’re not going to relive them again, so you better enjoy them, because, as much as you want to, -you can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone-, and you can die anytime, when you least expect it. So, BE HAPPY: THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS, everything else is bullshit, and life’s too short to waste it on bullshit.

    Well…at least that’s my interpretation of that phrase, wich i think, resumes very well the hole series… everyone is trying to find his place in this world, making mistakes, searching for answers, living, loving, suffering, smiling, etc., and in the end, all that matters it’s that you’ve done whatever makes you happy.

  8. dayvs Mar 31, 2009 / 04:36

    PLUS….i don’t think the real nate it’s talking to claire from the beyond, from heaven or wherever he is, i think nate represents the past, all the things that claire have lived, and all what she had to put behind her, both cheerful and painful moments, and, when he says “yo can’t take a picture of this…” it’s exactly the moment when claire understands that, now she’s taking her path aside from her family, and she has to leave all behind.

    Beautiful ending, if you ask me.


  9. Allan Mar 31, 2009 / 04:48

    I think that, that phrase had so much impact on us, ’cause is really a very strong phrase, and not just in the SFU show, but in our lifes, that’s why we can’t take it out of our heads….
    you can’t take a picture of this, it’s already gone….WOW. Let’s live our lifes fully, because we never now what’s going to happen..

  10. Ric Apr 27, 2009 / 20:46

    When Nate says “You can’t take a picture of this. It’s already gone” I interpretted it that what we were actually seeing might actually be one of Claire’s memories, rather than reality, and as such she couldn’t go back a take a photo of it.

    On the DVD audio commentary I think Alan Ball said the shot of the Fishers waving goodbye to Claire from the porch was deliberatly out of focus to give the impression that they were already slipping into memory. I think Nate’s line was used for the same effect, and as a hint to the end sequence that followed.

    • Anna Jun 19, 2010 / 06:52

      i’m a bit late with this but i’ve just finished watching SFU and all the emotions about the ending are still very fresh and new. I really needed to find a discussion about “You can’t take a picture of this; it’s already gone.” Because after a few days of thinking about the ending i started to wonder – what did Nate mean? I thought the same as you you – that it was actually Clare thinking back on that moment being an 98 year old dying woman. I should look for the interview with Alan Ball.
      Anyway, i totally agree with you.

  11. Jason Aug 9, 2009 / 05:31

    I thought it meant one of two things:

    A) The camera was broken

    B) The picture was taken, but someone lost it.

    • FIna Jan 13, 2011 / 19:45

      LOL Jason

      Watching the season for possibly the 5th time. Each time I get something new out of it or begin to identify with a character in a way I hadn’t before. I love this show so much.

  12. Danielle Jun 13, 2012 / 19:08

    I just watched the end and it really stuck with me-
    what I feel Nate meant= that moment you feel such an overwhelming feeling of love, or are moved by something, so much so that it makes you want to capture it in some way- hold on to it in some way- we often think of capturing it on photo- in some way to crystalize the moment- but (as in so many times in life) the moment one pulls out a camera to capture a moment- the moment is gone, passed into past. Nate meant- you can’t take a picture of this moment to capture how you feel- becasue that feeling is already gone- it has become a thing of the past- so soak up the feeling and live in that moment.

    It is amazing that she takes the photo anyway- and you’re absolutely right- she does it because we all have that need to capture those memories-
    So many times I look at photos I’ve taken which weren’t so meaningful in that exact moment- but they were taken after something meaningful happened- something that made me say- let’s take a picture of this moment….
    so looking at the photo reminds me of that..
    Claire- when she dies at the end- it’s interesting she has all those cataracts.. but I think she took Nate’s advice- she took the pictures anyway to try and hold on to those moments- but she also lived those moments to the fullest. And so at the ripe old age of 101, she doesn’t need the photos anymore, because those moments live forever in her memory and in her soul.

  13. Jovan Nikolic Jun 26, 2012 / 01:25

    I searched for the screenshot of taht particular moment in last episode (along with english subtitles) and stumbled upon this post.

    It is rather hard do explain possible perceptions of Nate’s thought without avoiding existentialist philosophy. My attempt will be stripped to the very basics (in order to avoid long, complicated lines of text and thoughts).

    Being recorded and broadcasted worldwide, “Six Feet Under”, never tried to raise hard, ultimately important questions. In any sense. Rather, whole TV show is based on the premise that “we need to live in the moment, with being locked to any previous moment”. In a way that we are all mortal, we’ll all die. That being said, the only (and it’s not that it isn’t enough or not important) modus operandi of the whole series is simple memento mori. In a strong, empirical way. Most of the characters aren’t “deep” or “metaphysical” or “hard-contemplative” personalities. Rather, simple people with very simple wishes and expectations from life.

    So, Nate’s sentence is affirmation of TV show concept. Simple-minded, plain american: Live at this moment, it will never happen again.

    Death is the inevitable final absurdity in a fundamentally meaningless existence. Sticking to particular moment is convicted to doom. Moments have their own meaning, but any moment can’t be meaning itself (if there is any meaning to our existence).

    • ericcartman23 Jul 25, 2014 / 00:41

      LOL. “Six Feet Under never tried to raise hard, ultimately important questions”? WHAT?! Too much crappy Breaking Bad has melted your mind.

  14. Rich Aug 12, 2012 / 12:31

    Boy did you hit the nail on the head with this. I loved this line from first sight

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