bringing-out-the-dead

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Tom Sizemore, Marc Anthony


Walking out of a screening of Nightcrawler, sitting in my car, I felt a hunger for something more. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved it. However, I wanted that ticking buzz to go on, that wide-awake excitement that comes with important movies set in the dead of night. I didn’t tear home through the streets or run red lights, but I did decide to revisit Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead; the depiction of a burnt out paramedic, Frank Pierce, (Nicolas Cage as a master of his craft) enclosed in his ambulance and his city.

The film doesn’t have a plot as such, but revolves around a man, his never ending job, and his undying guilt. The latest reincarnation of this is Mary (Patricia Arquette), her father fighting for his life after being ‘saved’ by Frank. If Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom made you want to turn away from him in disgust, Bringing Out The Dead’s Frank Pierce will make you walk forward, if only to tell him that everything’s okay.

The opening scene tells you all you need to know. Frank’s intense and tired eyes, the screaming soundtrack overwhelming the sirens, the way the streetlights distort while the ambulance dredges on, forming little crosses every couple of meters up the road. Everything and everyone in Frank’s New York is calling out for help. For this man, ‘saving someone’s life is like falling in love. The best drug in the world’, but like an addiction to anything, the pain that comes without the drug, the way Frank suffers when he ‘fails’, the wounds are all self inflicted.

Based on the novel by Joe Connelly, this could have easily been adapted to a bleak and bland outing of cinema. In the hands of Martin Scorsese’s direction and Paul Schrader’s screenplay, it pulses through the two hours in a sweaty sort of way. The entire film feels like the sort of dream Frank could be having, if he was actually sleeping. This all casts doubt on who the characters are and what is happening. Much of the events seem over the top, like recurring nightmares. The lighting does nothing to help us out of this frenetic state of dreaming. Characters and locations spend copious amounts of time surrounded by halos or drowned in light. One of the most disturbing moments arrives with Frank hallucinating under the influence of drugs. What is not disturbing are the feverish scenes, but the fact that they don’t differ all that much from the depiction outside of the high.

Now, all of this may put you off. You may think you’re in for a strange and morbid ride, something you’d rather snap out of than continue. The only thing stopping this is the humour, the dark, dark laughs. They’re the types of wise cracks and comments you may not want to laugh at, but can understand, given the situation. These moments, while they may entertain us, do not seem to appear for the viewer. Rather, they serve as some sort of consolation or coping mechanism for the poor souls driving and living in these moving hospitals. It’s the type of content that you may laugh out loud at helplessly, but only if you haven’t slept.