An Easter story. Frank is a Manhattan medic, working graveyard in a two-man ambulance team. He's burned out, exhausted, seeing ghosts, especially a young woman he failed to save six months' before, and no longer able to save people: he brings in the dead. We follow him for three nights, each with a different partner: Larry, who thinks about dinner, Marcus, who looks to Jesus, and Tom, who wallops people when work is slow. Frank befriends the daughter of a heart victim he brings in; she's Mary, an ex-junkie, angry at her father but now hoping he'll live. Frank tries to get fired, tries to quit, and keeps coming back, to work and to Mary, in need of his own rebirth. Written by
Bringing out the Dead, unfortunately, has fewer fans than it deserves. Why? Because this isn't simply a "New York" movie, or a movie about a paramedic, or about euthenasia, despite the ostensible setting and plot points.
Instead, Scorsese has created a cinematic myth about how haunted modern existence can be, and what it takes to be "saved" and find grace in a seemingly godless world. His vision of New York is all literate existential comedy, not a window into the rotten Big Apple. Mere satiric commentary on the tragedy of life in New York is for journeyman directors; Scorsese is doing something else entirely here.
In other words, this is that really rare beast--a literate film that is, first and foremost, still a great movie. In the plot and its implications, there's more here of Flannery O Conner or Virginia Woolf than there is here of, say, Tom Wolf. More pariticularly, Bringing out the Dead does with masterful filmmaking what Joyce's The Dead did in prose. This film is a truly eye-opening investigation into how the living exist in the shadow of the dead and dying.
The film accomplishes this incredibly difficult task on many levels--the cinematography alone should give you a clue that this is definitely not Taxi Driver or Goodfellas--there's something more sublime here (the beauty that American Beauty explains wonderfully is shown everywhere in this film, but Bringing out the Dead is less mundane, simple and "character" oriented). Every shot is right, and the numerous computer effects here--on display almost for their own sake in The Matrix--are here poetically put together by a master director.
So, just for it's approach to a subject that few movies or directors would even attempt, this film will be a classic. Oddly enough, one of the few movies it can be compared with is Hitchcock's Vertigo, which confronts the same issues in a different way. Scotty's (Jimmy Stewart) desire to "raise" the dead is as strong as Frank's, and audiences didn't much like Vertigo when it was released either.
The acting, the music, the incredible photography--they're all great, if you realize you are watching a literate, funny, well-plotted (as opposed to simply plotted) meditation on the ghosts that increasingly inhabit our technocratic dwellings.
Too good for a grade: see it on the biggest, best screen you can while you can. BTW--it's better the second time.
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