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Fielding Pierce runs for Congress haunted by his dead love,
This review is from: Waking the Dead [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Things get a little too cute at the end of "Waking the Dead," and while I appreciate the idea of leaving up what "really" happened to the audience, I do not think that this was the film was the one in which to try this particular trick. After all, this movie is not a ghost story, even though the main character is haunted by the dead woman that he loved, but a film that mixes romance and politics to the point where the film's big question really matters and should have been answered more directly.
In 1982 a stunned Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup) learns form the evening news that the woman he loves, Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connely) has been killed by a car bomb attack because of her involvement in opposing the corrupt government of Chile and U.S. involvement. We then go back to see how they first met, when he was serving in the Coast Guard, to avoid going to Vietnam, and she was the secretary for his brother, who is running some sort of counter culture magazine. He longs for a career in politics and she wants to bring down the system. Yet when Fielding says he wants to be president some day, she smiles because he clearly means it.
These two characters from Scott Spencer's novel are politically polarized and these differences only grow as the two fall in love. They take turns accompanying each other to important social functions at which the other one become an embarrassment, before Sarah goes off and gets killed for her beliefs. Ten years later Fielding is given the opportunity to run in a special election for a seat in the U.S. Congress, as the handpicked choice of the governor and his chief political hack (Hal Holbrook). This is the first step to what Fielding has wanted his entire life, only Sarah sees it as a betrayal. True, Sarah has been dead ten years at this point, but that does not stop Fielding from first hearing and then seeing her.
Is Fielding going insane, is he being haunted, or is this some sort of sick game? Good question, but do not ask me the answer because I watched the movie. It is hard to spoil a movie when you are not sure what really happened at the end, although I could hazard a guess. Ultimately, the politics clashes between Fielding and Sarah are more interesting than their romance. You have to wonder how their relationship would have ended if she had not died, because sooner or later one of them would have had to blink. One of the strengths of "Waking the Dead" is that both of them are right and you think that if only they could find a way to work together great things could happen.
"Waking the Dead" is one of those titles that has a double meaning, for it applies to Fielding as much as it does to Sarah. That sense of ambiguity pervades Keith Gordon's 2000 film and certainly explains why the ending is so open to interpretation. But for me it does not quite work in the end, although Fielding's scene in his Congressional office works much better than his dinner with his family. Still, this is an interesting film for those who like to see film that try to play with an audience's mind (and which should be avoid like the plague by those who did enjoy "Fight Club" or "Memento").