"The experience of burnout has a particular kind of poignancy. Having started out to help others, we're somehow getting wounded ourselves. What we had in mind was expressing compassion. Instead, what we seem to be adding to the universe is more suffering our own while we are supposedly helping," Ram Dass and Paul Gorman have written. Martin Scorsese's frenzied and fast-paced film explores this emotional turf in a riveting drama about a New York City paramedic who is experiencing a harrowing spiritual emergency during a 52-hour period.
After five years on the mean streets of Manhattan, Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) has seen it all homicides, heart attacks, suicides, drug overdoses, drunks, and much more. He is haunted by the death of Rose, an 18-year-old girl he failed to save. In addition, he feels harassed by the wandering spirits of the dead, especially those who left their bodies while they were angry at the place and situation where they died.
None of his partners during various graveyard shifts the detached Larry (John Goodman), the born-again Marcus (Ving Rhames), or the seriously deranged Tom (Tom Sizemore) have the wherewithal to rescue Frank from his soul-shattering burnout. The only lifeline he finds is Mary (Patricia Arquette), a former drug addict whose father (Cullen Oliver Johnson) is brought back from the brink of death in the ER 16 times.
The complex screenplay by Paul Schrader based on a novel by Joe Connelly masterfully charts the nightmarish journey of this good man who has been worn down by all the suffering, loss, and death around him. Frank hasn't saved a life an experience he equates with the elation of falling in love for a long time. Yet even in his fatigue, depression, and anger, he bears witness to the pain of others. Even in the moments when the toxins of emotional confusion have him in their grip, Frank continues to help the helpless.
Bringing Out the Dead ends with the joy of a single caring act and a religious image that has been captured over the centuries in Christian paintings and sculptures. For Martin Scorsese, dramas about sin, guilt, and redemption are still alive and well on the mean streets of New York City.