Desperately Seeking Anima

Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead is a pensive, reflective movie, more or less equal in tone to Ang Lee's The Ice Storm (substitute Qawwali singing for gamelan music, keep the snow), yet because of its temporal breadth and tight emotional focus, it packs a more intimate punch. At a celebration in Washington, D.C. (again, Montreal), late in the film, Fielding's fatigue and visions lead to a fit in which he shouts that he doesn't want pity or generosity, he wants help to see himself. The scene makes a strong case for the overlooked and largely denied complexity of the masculine psyche. Without the mirror and beacon of the feminine, it loses its way. Corralled by yes men and aching for the glow he once knew with Sarah, Fielding's challenge is to discover that wholeness within. In this role Crudup takes over as Sensitive Male where William Hurt and Claude Raines left off.

Sarah's aura is vital to this struggle, and Connelly delivers the immense passion of a young woman who wants to give her all to her man but knows she simply cannot; she has another missionary position to fulfill. The role affords an intriguing opportunity to assess the feminine Zeitgeist of three decades. The voice of Joni Mitchell, occasionally catty but undeniably intelligent and compassionate, complements the rich hues of the '70s. The '80s are evoked here with a hard, loveless bleakness. (One imagines early Pat Benatar songs.) So what would have happened if this tale had been set in the present? Would the ruthless, retarded persona of a Courtney Love have influenced Sarah? Would Fielding, solid identity or otherwise, have been so deeply touched in the first place? It seems worthy of consideration.

Director Gordon, whose other films include The Chocolate War, A Midnight Clear, and Mother Night, offers up much to meditate upon here, and it's no surprise, with its theme of spiritual fusion (à la the prince in Anna and the King), that Waking the Dead was hatched by Jodie Foster's Egg Pictures. (It seems strange, however, that the woman who turned down Hannibal is now developing a spate of films about gangsters, bounty hunters, murderers, and executioners, but why not trust her to do her work?) Waking the Dead stands well on its own, without defense, but if the naked emotions here seem rote or the jaded forget the glow of love (and the agony of its loss), these lines from Sixth Dynasty Chinese poet Shen Yüeh may spark the memory:

I think of when she comes -- shining, shining, up the garden stairs, impatient, impatient to end our parting. Tireless, tireless, we talk of love, gaze at each other but never get our fill, look at one another till hunger is forgotten.

Ever been there?

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