Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Joe Connelly (novel), Paul Schrader (screenplay)
Release Date: 22 October 1999
IMDB Synopsis: Haunted by the patients he failed to save, an extremely burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic fights to maintain his sanity over three fraught and turbulent nights.
Most likely a video store rental in 2000. I watched it repeatedly back then and bought the DVD and the soundtrack. I used to buy film soundtracks pretty often. That's something I haven't done in a while.
Why it's on the List
"For this, for everything, we are out of tune;"
"Sanctity is made up of heroic acts. Therefore, in our work we are asked for the heroism of finishing properly the tasks committed to us, day after day, even though they are the same tasks. If we don’t, then we do not want to be saints."
"Williams assumed that we could and should take on one another's emotional and spiritual burdens of pain and fear. For him this might include something as limited as sympathizing with another, but it moves far beyond that to the idea that we might actually bear the weight of another’s pain and fear. It is not just being willing to pick up one end of a heavy load; it is taking upon yourself the full weight of that load. In that process the burden of the other is relieved – so there is substitution. This is an act of will and an entering into another’s reality as if it were our own. We live by Christ’s death on the Cross. And in a more humble sense we may lose our lives for one another as citizens of the City."
-Robert Gallagher on Charles Williams idea of the City and Way of Exchange
I've included the above quotes because they capture the feeling of this very spiritual, very earthy film. What I've always specifically loved about the film is the idea of bearing witness, of co-suffering as something of value. Living in the City means relationship, human beings relating to one another for good or ill. Outside of the city, one can live in isolation and never see one's neighbors. In a city environment, neighbors are always present and the neediest make themselves known. There can be an anonymity to the city, but BotD stresses the community. The paramedics in BotD cover the same beats, deal with the same emergencies, and see the same people. They must learn to do the same tasks properly day after day with no relief. Much of this film is dark comedy, because dark comedy is one serious way of making it through shared suffering.
The above is a positive way of looking at the themes of the film. There is also a clear negative strain. Cage's paramedic is not burdened by death. "We're all dying," he says almost cheerfully at one point. He is not haunted by death. He is burdened by life. He is haunted by the City being too alive, which includes daily dying. Not only are the living suffering and weighing down on him; the dead won't stay dead. It's a City of Ghosts. Every street corner is full of life, even in death, and life means pain. The problem explored in the film isn't how to live with death. It's how to live with so much life.
The ending is powerful. Throughout the film, the Paramedic wallows in despair, ignoring or actively destroying his own health as if doing so will allow that health and vitality to be transferred to those without it. It is only in a final moment when he stops choosing to die for others and instead chooses to live for another, literally taking on pieces of medical equipment so that his life signals are regarded as the life of the other, does he find some peace. Paradoxically, this moment in the film perfectly illustrates the way of exchange. The paramedic gains the father's body's fight to survive while the father gains the paramedic's heart's desire for the rest of death.
- "I realised that my training was useful in less than ten percent of the calls, and saving lives was rarer than that. After a while, I grew to understand that my role was less about saving lives than about bearing witness. I was a grief mop. It was enough that I simply turned up."
- This is a flawed film. I know that. It's more interesting to me for that. The performances especially are a mixed bag. Goodman is mostly okay. Arquette passively floats through this. Rhames gets some funny stuff to do, but that's offset by the weakness of goofy goth kids, etc. Sizemore and Anthony are okay. This is not an actor's movie and I sort of like that. These actors are there more like Bressonian models, for Scorsese to pose in various ways to achieve an overall effect of the city that he is going for. Each character is not so much individual as part of a greater whole.
- I guess I'm a fan of the Scorsese-Schrader team. I [mostly] like their work together more than I like any of their work apart.
- According to IMDb trivia, "This, along with Sleepy Hollow (1999), was the last movie to be released on the LaserDisc format." RIP LaserDisc.
- This is the only Scorsese movie of the 90s to have no Oscar nominations. Obviously my taste and the tastes of the Academy are out of synch.
I just watched this this morning. More than anything else, it reminded me how sad it felt to lose Gene Siskel in 1999. (Nothing against David Poland.)
- “If you think of it, ‘Last Temptation,’ ‘Kundun’ and then ‘Silence,’ our next one, will be the sort of trilogy of religiously-based films, and I think ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ is almost in there,” Schoonmaker says. “That is the one that has never gotten recognition. But I can’t tell you how many people talk to me about that movie. There is a ripple that’s going on. Bertrand Tavernier, the really wonderful French director, just wrote a review of it again. I have friends, when they have friends over for dinner, they make them watch it. It never got its due because it’s about compassion. That’s why.” http://uproxx.com/hitfix/thelma-schoonmaker-hopes-martin-scorseses-bringing-out-the-dead-will-eventually-get-its-due/
- This is the only Scorsese on my list. He's never been a favorite of mine, but I get why he's so beloved. I'll watch every new film he directs. I still regret missing Silence at the theatre. I was out of town at a game convention the week it opened. I planned on going the following week and Regal had already pulled it. I decided not to put any documentaries on my list (there were only a tiny handful that were even considered), but his Personal Journey through American Movies is absolutely essential, my favorite thing that he has ever done.
- This is the second and last Nicholas Cage film on my list. Raising Arizona just barely missed being on the list.