How many films have you seen in last few months? Now, out of those films, how many do you remember? What was the name of the lead character? Exactly – you can’t remember. But, Waking the Dead (USA Films) breaks that trend, and you will remember the film well past the ride home.
Based on the 1986 novel by Scott Spencer, Waking the Dead is a tragedy and at the same time celebrates the omnipotence of love. From the first shot of the film, director Keith Gordon invites the audience to become a part of the story, not just watch it.
The scenes do not flow in chronological order. Instead non-linear moments flow from the lead character Fielding Pierce’s consciousness. Waking the Dead begins with Fielding (Billie Crudup, Hi-Lo Country) watching the news. He learns that a bombing in Chile has taken the life of Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly, Inventing the Abbots). At this point in the film, their relationship is unknown, but with precisely executed close-ups and poignant acting by Crudup, the scene immediately intrigues you. You begin to see the life of Sarah just as Fielding does.
The two meet in 1972 when Fielding visits his hippie brother at a publishing company. He appears in a military uniform. Sarah, in her usual strong nature, invites herself to lunch with Fielding and his brother Danny (Paul Hipp).
The passion between Fielding and Sarah is a unique combination of clashing views, a revolutionary time and their destinies. The fate of the characters is a recurring theme in the film. They appear on the surface to have nothing in common. In one hilarious scene, Fielding attends a political dinner with Sarah on his arm, and Sarah does everything but play the courteous girlfriend of a senator
Scenes from Fielding’s life after Sarah’s death are interlaced between the scenes – revealing the intimate moments the two share together. These scenes are tragically cold and empty, but none are as lackluster as the moments he shares with his new socialite girlfriend, Juliet Beck (Molly Parker). She is the niece of his political consultant, Isaac Green (Hal Holbrook, The Firm). From Juliet’s clothes to her tone of voice, Parker portrays the superficial political relationship she has with Fielding while revealing hidden levels of Juliet’s character. Juliet clearly loves Fielding and wants a future with him but sadly acknowledges that he is too tied to his past with Sarah to commit to her.
Director Keith Gordon presents these experiences as almost different lives. During Fielding’s time with Sarah, warm hues and images of heat make the scenes feel hot. After her death, Fielding lives a life in the frigid snow, a perfect metaphor.
Hipp gives a dramatic performance as Danny Piece. Caught up in the craze of sex parlors and drugs, Danny seems to have nothing in common with his brother except for a strong loyalty. His character serves as another individual, besides Sarah, who can remind Fielding of who he is on the inside rather than the candidate he hopes to become.
Connelly takes Sarah as the girlfriend and transforms her into a strong, individual dedicated to her convictions and accomplishing her goals. Her presence in the film is sheer ethereal beauty as she haunts Fielding. But through their affair, it is clear that love is not always enough.
Crudup’s performance could be comparable to many of the great young actors that preceded him, except for the fact that he exhibits a rare quality that is indescribable. Maybe it’s sensitivity, maybe it is what many acting coaches of diverse schools might call naturalism. But whatever it is, he makes his sadness your sadness and his triumphs your triumphs.
The various elements gel to create one beautiful final product. You could see a film that you may not remember the week after, but why do that when you have this rare opportunity to see one that makes an impression.
Waking the Dead is playing in theaters.