[Life after love. Love after life.]
After the title “Dead Again,” the film opens with the word MURDER. Followed by headlines of the murder mixed amongst the opening credits. Headline: STRAUSS ARRESTED. TRIAL OPENS TODAY. STRAUSS FOUND GUILTY December 10th 1949. STRAUSS GETS DEATH. Strauss begins singing a lament in the background toward the end of the credits. Fade In to Roman Strauss [Kenneth Branagh] getting a haircut. He is visited by one member of the press Mr. Gray Baker [Andy Garcia].
Roman Strauss wants a favor from Mr. Baker. After all he has been writing all about his arrest, trial, guilty verdict and his death sentence. Mr. Gray Baker owed Roman Strauss to print his request of an exact quote, “I loved my wife and that I love her forever.”
Roman continues to talk when Mr. Baker asks him, “You truly believe you are lucky to die?”
Roman looks intently at Mr. Baker. His response is, “This is all far from over.”
“But you still killed her?” Mr. Gray Baker asks Roman. Strauss gives Mr. Baker a kiss behind the ear. Gray Baker is an important character to follow.
Roman Strauss is then taken away.
There is commotion as Strauss walks down the hall to face his death. At the end of the hall, Roman raises his hand. As he brings it down, he shouts, “These are for you.”
The past is very Film Noir and Gothic, [In opening, an inside joke, the date 12/10/49, it is Kenneth Branagh’s birthday]. The film has the influences such as Laura by Preminger, Wells, and Hitchcock’s Rebecca. The ideas of hypnosis, regression and reincarnation scared other directors away from making this film. With the script by Scott Frank [later to write the screenplay for "Get Shorty," "Minority Report," "Marley & Me," "The Wolverine," plus others], in the “Dead Again” script, there is an undercurrent of humor, and a flow into the dark side.
When we enter the present, a woman wakes up screaming. Camera switches to the classic Gothic gates, a la Citizen Kane, with a large G-Clef in the center where the iron gates close. [Remember the G-clef]. She is staying at a Catholic Orphanage. The priest wants her out. The kind nun caring for her argues she has no place to go. He gives her the name Mike Church. Tells her to contact him. He owes the priest favors. An good, honest name for a P.I. whose haunt is LA, he drives a red, convertible sports car. His main focus is missing persons. He accepts the case of the mysterious screaming woman [Emma Thompson]. First thing he discovers is she has amnesia and is unable to speak.
A stranger shows up at Mike’s door the day he has placed an ad hoping someone will know who the screaming woman is. He is a hypnotist who wants to help Mike discover her identity. He tries some hypnosis, to Mike’s objections, but almost immediately gets some results. She screams out some words, then reverts back to being unable to speak.
The hypnotist, Franklyn Madson, [Derek Jacobi], offers his assistance. Mike brings his mystery woman to the “Laughing Duke,” an antique shop where Madson hypnotizes his clients to locate antiques while he has them under. Mike wants to see if he will be able to help solve the mystery of her amnesia, her inability to speak, and what exactly are her nightmares.
While under hypnosis she begins having what appear to be flashbacks. She is taken to taken to the past where she begins remembering Roman Strauss with his wife Margaret. It is as if she were actually there with him. Her descriptions come from the effects of the hypnosis. She talks of Roman and Margaret’s wedding and of their careers. Margaret’s is flourishing while Roman’s struggling with his career in the US. He tries to compose his own music but it isn’t coming and offers to score films aren’t successful either. His music is too good. He had to leave his homeland in Europe. He was ill and his wife died. His personal housekeeper, Inga and her son, Frankie, were able to get him to the States successfully.
At the reception, Margaret has a talk with Inga and Frankie. She reminded them they were to have moved their living quarters to another part of the mansion before the wedding. Inga questions her, saying that Mr. Strauss had not asked them to. Margaret made it clear she was now Roman’s wife and it made no difference, they must listen to her.
Roman is madly in love with Margaret. For their marriage, he gives her a special gift, an anklet. Moments later, Madson brings her out of the trance. While he is talking to Mike, she speaks, asking for a glass of water. All are thrilled. Madson is all excited about what came out of the trance. He shows them a Life magazine with photos of the marriage of Roman Strauss and to his wife Margaret. The mystery woman looks a great deal like Margaret. Her amnesia is still very much intact and is confused by it all.
The hypnosis continues with Mike joining in by going under, both are bringing up effective results, and some revelations are very unusual. The strongest memory coming from the screams in her nightmares. They involve the murder of a pianist, Margaret, by her husband Roman Strauss in late 1948. After this result, when the session is finished for the day, Madson calls out to a voice, saying, “In a moment, mother.”
Mike takes her to see Cozy Carlisle [Robin Williams], a former psychiatrist, but lost his license. After Mike explains the session she just had, the Doc tells them it sounds like past life regression. “Sometimes a trauma in a past life can lead you to a trauma in a present life.” “Karma. You burn someone in a past life they turn around and burn you in this life.”
Some simple memories return to her, but nothing substantial. Mike gets some help from his friend, Pete [Wayne Knight] at the newspaper, who placed the first ad. And Mike starts looking into the story of Roman Strauss through old copies of newspapers, specifically the articles, which there are a plethora, written by Mr. Gray Baker [Andy Garcia]. She says “Hello” to Pete. He thinks her voice is great.
Mike takes her out to eat at a beach café, where they start to bond. He pretends to read the tea leaves for her. This is a fun scene, and when he christens her “Grace.” Rain starts shortly there after, and a romantic moment unfolds.
Weirdos keep coming out of the woodwork, trying to confuse “Grace’s” recovery. But the work with Madson, the hypnotist continues. Time to travel back in time to Roman and Margaret. The excitement keeps building from frame to frame, scene to scene, and reel to reel. The past is just as enthralling as the present.
Fitting the pieces together in the past of Roman and Margaret, leads back into the present with Mike and “Grace.” What do they have to do with the other? Is there any connection between Margaret and “Grace?” And what about Mike Church? How does he fit into any of this?
It is a finely designed film, with heightened emotions building up as piece by piece everything eventually falls together. You need to allow the tension to build and the mind to be free of any preconceived notions of what you think is real and possible. Do not forget any characters. The script is so tightly written and played out, every nuance is important to remember. I have seen the film “Dead Again” multiple times. It holds me spellbound every time.
Keep the past fresh in your mind as you watch the present unfolding. Watch out for the danger. Trust no one. Suspect everyone. There is a scene, I promise, I won’t give it away. I will just say you will make a face and go, “Wwwwhhhhhoooooaaaaa!!!” Not sure if that is the exact sound everyone will make.
My favorite line of the film is: “Well, I, for one am very interested in seeing what is going to happen next.”
Emma Thompson is magnificently strong as Margaret and brilliantly delicate, blowing the audience away as “Grace.” It was my first Emma Thompson experience. I didn’t know her at all. I fell in love at first site and continue to love her today. She is an exceptional actor and screenwriter.
Kenneth Branagh is exceptionally tender, plus scary as Roman Strauss and gently forceful, as well as a persistent protector as Mike Church. Kenneth had another extremely important role, he is the Director of “Dead Again.” So, he played a German composer, an American P.I., directed the film “Dead Again,” and he is excellent in all the parts he undertook.
A very dynamic duo, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. Where were the Awards? There should have been awards. Plus they are British doing the roles of three Americans and one German.
These were my theatre days, when I just picked out a film that sounded good. Choosing “Dead Again,” what a perfect decision. It didn’t just sound good, it is a fantastic film. Edge of the seat from the first scene until the very last moment. I give this 5***** stars out five.
This movie is from the 1990′s. Every aspect is excellent from the script, its direction, performances, music, editing, it grabs hold of you and lifts you up into the ride of your life. Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, [when “Dead Again” was made, Kenneth and Emma were husband and wife], played two roles in the past and two roles in the present. Past and present required separate clothing designs, hairstyles, and British accents turned into American for both and one character in German for Kenneth. The jewel on top was their parts were of two people in love and destined to be together forever.
I love “Dead Again” from the second the projector starts rolling the very first time. Every second of it a ride through a thriller, love story, character development, and a lasting treasure.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh as Roman Strauss / Mike Church
Emma Thompson as Grace / Margaret Strauss
Andy Garcia as Gray Baker
Derek Jacobi as Franklyn Madson
Wayne Knight as ‘Piccolo’ Pete Dugan
Hanna Schygulla as Inga
Campbell Scott as Doug
Robin Williams as Doctor Cozy Carlisle