Not Quite Dead Yet

Frank Pierce is a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Called to be a healer as a paramedic, he finds himself hammered down by the intense suffering that he witnesses every night, suffering that he cannot, despite his training, control or alleviate.

In Martin Scorsese’s new film, Bringing Out the Dead, based on Joe Connelly’s novel of the same name, Nicolas Cage brings Frank Pierce to life, if you can call an existence devoid of hope and joy a life. The movie is set in the early 1990s, during a period of virulent drug wars, several years before Rudolph Guiliani’s tough-on-crime policy tightened its grip on New York City.

Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader, who teamed up for films such as Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ, have created another film about a lonely, conflicted creature who struggles mightily with the demands placed on him. Clearly Frank Pierce is different from Travis Bickle, the manic title character of Taxi Driver, in that Frank, despite the craziness around him, is not psychotic (yet). He’s a bit more similar to Jesus of Nazareth: He thinks he’s supposed to possess healing powers, but in Frank’s case, the powers have deserted him. He’s frustrated to realize that his role is simply to be a "grief mop."

Not only has he not been able to save anyone in six months, he is constantly haunted by those people who have died under his care, particularly a young woman named Rose. Her face is on every person he passes by, speaking to him, asking him why he let her die. He barely endures each shift, cringing every time a call comes through from the dispatcher. Frank is ready to go over the edge, and there is little left to his life that will catch him when he falls.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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