While many films stand the test of time, others fade into obscurity. Whether this happens over a period of years or almost instantly upon a film’s release, each of these titles have slipped through the cracks of our collective memory to join the ranks of the Films That Time Forgot.
It’s fair to say that Nicolas Cage is possibly one of the most erratic and electrifying actors of all time. His frighteningly manic potential occasionally gives way to monotonous, pensive despair, and in some films, the two combine to form a perfect yin-yang of human behavior. Bringing Out the Dead is just one such film, in which Cage is able to channel both his inner puppy-dog sorrow and the sheer unadulterated madness that apparently lies just beneath the surface. Though technically Bringing Out the Dead hasn’t been forgotten (far from it), it still doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, even among Cage’s filmography.
Cage stars as Frank Pierce, an overworked New York paramedic on a streak of bad luck with his patients. Following Pierce over several busy nights as his mind unravels as a result of the stress of his job, Bringing Out the Dead sees Cage interact with the ghosts of the patients he believes he failed, as well as fall in love with the daughter of a comatose heart attack survivor. Starring alongside Cage is Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore, with appearances from the likes of Cliff Curtis, Michael K. WIlliams, and Marc Anthony.
Bringing Out the Dead captures the madness of New York from an utterly unique perspective. The film presents the city as Frank’s adversary, making the relentless tide of human suffering the main antagonist, and the film’s central story sees Frank struggling against it. Even as his stability slips, Frank continues to dedicate himself to his work, and his morals and sanity begin to melt away as the city consumes more and more of his hopefulness.
Cage’s performance is sheer brilliance. Casually cycling between utter mania and the depths of despair seemingly on a whim, Cage is perhaps the only man who could have adequately conveyed Frank’s journey through personal adversity. Bringing Out the Dead examines themes of addiction, obsession, and personal growth, and in this, Cage delivers like no other – Frank Pierce is a man utterly addicted to and obsessed with his work, even though he recognizes that it’s tearing him apart. He even refers to himself as being “sick“, all because he can’t walk away from the patients that need him, because he’s always chasing the high of saving lives.
Therein lies Bringing Out the Dead‘s subtle message. Everyone is chasing their own highs, and everyone must ride their own lows. Each and every human being on the planet can associate in part with Frank Pierce, who simply can’t let go of something that’s poisoning him because there’s a chance it might deliver a moment of euphoria. There’s a lot more that can be read into Frank’s journey, but ultimately, it’s one of healing and taking the earliest steps to letting go of unhealthy obsessions.
Bringing Out the Dead is able to communicate a very specific tone. The bright lights and deep shadows of New York’s streets is offset by the fluorescent glow of hospitals and ambulance lighting, and that serves as the backdrop to what equates to a ballad of insanity. Each of the characters that serve as Frank’s partners offer some other insight into coping mechanisms: Larry focuses on food, Marcus on religion, and Wolls channels his frustration through violent rage. In each, there’s a small truth which helps Bringing Out the Dead resonate on a much deeper level, making it a thought-provoking tale of human drama.
Summary: Bringing Out the Dead is an unfairly overlooked Cage classic, wherein he exhibits his ability to capture the instability of the human psyche when faced with impossible situations. It’s a bizarre experience, but a deeply interesting and personal story that still feels universal.
Highlights: Ving Rhames as Marcus literally preaching to a chorus of goth drug addicts is perhaps the peak of Bringing Out the Dead‘s insane thrills, and it underpins the beautiful chaos that the film embodies.