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Film / Dead Again

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Carlisle: There's a lot more people on this planet who believe in past lives than don't.

Dead Again is a 1991 film directed by Kenneth Branagh, who stars in it along with Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy García, and Hanna Schygulla.

Los Angeles private detective Mike Church (Branagh) is guilted by the priest who raised him into taking the case of an unidentified woman he ends up calling Grace (Thompson). She's amnesiac and suffers from trauma-induced muteness, broken by nightmares in which she can only cry out "somebody help me!" and the word "Disher!". The fact that she turned up at a particular convent indicates that Grace has some connection to the house, which previously belonged to a famous German composer named Roman Strauss.

With a little help from a disgraced psychiatrist (Robin Williams), Mike and Grace seek out the assistance of a hypnotist, in order to see if hypnosis will bring back her ability to speak in the daytime. When her voice returns in the course of the therapy, the hypnotist decides to try past life regression on both Grace and Mike. Grace's past life reveals a romance between Roman and a woman named Margaret — and their lives in California as chronicled by a tabloid journalist. As the pieces begin to fall into place, Grace fears that Mike is the reincarnation of the man who killed her in a previous life. The truth is a little stranger than that.

This film provides examples of:

  • And This Is for...: The young Franklyn gives this speech as he's stabbing Margaret to death with the scissors.
  • Arc Words: "These are for you."
  • Bedlam House: The hospital where Mike tries to fob off Grace. It's strictly for women, but the place is full of extreme insanity cases and the staff is clearly either apathetic or overburdened. Mike fancies himself a tough guy detective who doesn't want to be burdened with a woman, but he can't bring himself to leave Grace in a place like this. So he takes her back to his apartment.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Roman, when he finds Margaret's body, thereby getting the fingerprints on the murder weapon that contribute to him being convicted of the murder.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A box that appears at a key moment in the movie has Japanese writing on the lid, which according to the DVD commentary is a translation of the movie's arc words: "These are for you."
  • Brain Bleach: Mike's reaction when Pete tells Grace the story of the crime scene that caused him to pass out and suffer temporary amnesia; a man who killed off his whole family and then cut off his own arms.
    Mike: Pete!
    Pete: Had to dial 911 with his nose.
    Mike: Pete!
    Pete: What?!
    Mike: I just know there's a point to all this.
    Pete: It's coming!
  • The Cameo: Robin Williams has three brief scenes as disgraced psychiatrist Cozy Carlisle.
  • Cassandra Truth: Mike's "I'm not Roman!"
  • Catapult Nightmare: Grace, in her first scene.
  • Chekhov's Anklet: The anklet Roman gives to Margaret as a wedding present. Inga later gives it to Mike, and when Grace/Amanda sees he has it, after shooting him - see My God, What Have I Done? below - she realizes he's not out to kill her.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Dr. Carlisle is a burnt-out perpetually grumpy man who says some heinous things but Robin William's quick and dry delivery leads to a lot of humor. Mike is shocked at Carlisle's bluntness in telling him to kill Grace, but Carlisle just shrugs it off as friendly advice.
  • Creator Cameo: Patrick Doyle, the composer who has scored most of Kenneth Branagh's movies, appears in the flashbacks as a party guest, and in the present day as an LAPD cop escorting a prisoner in the asylum elevator.
  • Cut Phone Lines: At the climax of the movie, Grace discovers that her phone is dead and suspects the phone line has been sabotaged to prevent her calling for help. It's not established whether that's actually the case; it's also suggested that it might just have been an unfortunately timed consequence of the bad weather.
  • Dream Intro: The first scene appears to be an ordinary prologue, then becomes increasingly surreal and nightmarish before cutting to Grace catapulting awake in the present day.
  • Dramatic Unmask: One of Grace's hypnotic-regression flashbacks ends with Roman entering the room in the costume he wore to the masquerade ball, then removing the mask to reveal not Roman's face but Mike's. This marks the first time the characters become aware that Mike's past self was present in Grace's past life.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Gray Baker is still alive in Mike's time, and dying of throat cancer from the smoking habit he had during his reporter days. And yet, he's still so addicted that despite having a surgical hole in his throat, he begs Mike for a cigarette and smokes it through his trachea tube. This inspires a horrified Mike to successfully quit smoking.
  • Dumb Struck: Grace, until her first hypnotherapy session (in the DVD Commentary, the writers confess that this was added in a later draft when they realized that all her lines up until that point were just variations on "Sorry, I don't remember".)
  • Easy Amnesia:
    • Well, not entirely easy, but Grace is the amnesiac linchpin of the whole movie.
    • Also, in the story Pete tells Grace about the grisly murder scene he witnessed. He says he passed out upon viewing it, and when he woke up, he couldn't remember who he was. He got better, though.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: The first time we see Roman's face.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Robin Williams plays a former therapist who lost his license due to sleeping with patients, and now works in a grocery store.
  • Film Noir: Plays with quite a few of the conventions—Mike is a Private Detective, in Los Angeles, drawn into a case involving a woman with a mysterious past. Bonus points for the past actually taking place in The '40s...and being shown in black and white. The very first scene in particular, with Roman on death row and Gray questioning him, practically screams noir.
  • Flash Back: More past life regression through hypnosis, but you get the idea.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Grace's nightmare at the beginning of the movie is a flashback to an event from her previous life.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking:
    • Time-appropriate in the Roman and Margaret time frame: everyone smoked during that time.
    • Mike, the private eye, was pretty much required by the genre to smoke. The Running Gag of the film is that he's trying to quit.
    • And of course Gray Baker shows how bad an idea it can be, with a nauseating close-up of him smoking through his stoma.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When we finally see the murder of Margaret, it's as a shadow against the curtain of her bed, which is joined by a splash of blood.
  • Happy Rain: Roman and Margaret are caught in the rain in the past, which leads to them making love on the sofa ("We'll ruin this couch!" "I'll buy another one!"), while in the present, Mike and Grace's rooftop dinner is spoiled by a sudden downpour that also ends with them in bed together.
  • Hypno Fool: Averted. Mr. Madsen gets people to regress to past lives, but there's no Svengali-like command, or making people act like chickens. Though he wouldn't mind if you found him the odd bit of antique furniture while regressing.
  • If I Can't Have You…: A variation; Frankie apparently feels if his mother can't have Roman, neither can Margaret, which is why he kills her.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In the final showdown, the villain ends up run through with one of Grace's scissor-nightmare sculptures.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: The fake fiancé who shows up to take Grace off Mike's hands supports his claim by bringing the matching glove to the one Grace had when she was found. Mike realizes just in time that it matches too well — they're both for the same hand.
  • Inertial Impalement: In the final showdown, the villain charges at Mike and Grace, only to be impaled on, ironically, one of Grace's scissor-nightmare sculptures.
  • Institutional Apparel:
    • On death row, Roman wears a jumpsuit with his prisoner number on it.
    • The scene at the mental hospital has people in scrubs, straitjackets or both on top of normal clothing or pajamas.
  • Karmic Death: Frankie stabs Margaret to death with a pair of scissors, and Mike, who's the reincarnation of Margaret, kills the grown-up Frankie with one of Grace's scissor sculptures.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: Carlisle has this reaction when Mike explains to him that he was Margaret Strauss, and Grace was Roman Strauss.
  • Life Isn't Fair
    Cozy Carlisle: Hey, thumbdick, I was a damn good shrink. Sixteen and a half years I worked with a lot of people through a lot of shit. OK, I slept with a patient or two. It's not like I didn't care about them.
    Mike Church: Sure.
    Carlisle: I loved being a doctor. I used to not charge half my patients. Then the fucking state comes along, they send in some bitch undercover, and I'm fucked. Ain't fair, is it?
  • Mama Bear: Inverted. Inga protected Frankie for more than 30 years, but he did not display his gratitude appropriately.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Somebody help me!"
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Mike Church was raised in the convent where Grace showed up.
    • Franklyn Madsen, which sounds like "mad son".
    • The fake fiancé claims Grace's real name is Katherine Pierce. Her real name turns out to be Amanda Sharp. Both related to the theme of death-by-scissors.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The anklet.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Roman ended up getting the death penalty for his wife's murder. The ending is ambiguous as to whether Mike and Grace will clear his name.
  • Monochrome Past: The scenes in the past are all shot in black and white. In the final scene, in which we get a final glimpse of Roman and Margaret at their happiest moment, the scene slowly turns to color before fading out.
  • Montages: A rare opening montage of newspaper headlines, outlining the end of Roman and Margaret Strauss.
  • My Art, My Memory: Grace/Amanda's art has a persistent scissors motif.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Grace says this word for word after she shoots Mike, and finds out the object he was taking out of his jacket was Margaret's anklet.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: The finale has a three-way fight among Mike, Grace and Frankie, with the voices chanting away in the background. The music is supposed to be from the opera Roman Strauss had finished the night Margaret was murdered.
  • Once More, with Clarity: In the flashback that begins the movie, when Gray asks Roman an Armor-Piercing Question - "But you still killed her (Margaret), didn't you, Mr. Strauss?" At this point, Roman leans down and appears to whisper something in Gray's ear that we can't hear. Near the end, Gray tells Mike what really happened, and we see the scene again. As Gray admits, Mike actually kissed him on the cheek, and he was unable to write anything after that.
  • The Oner: Grace's first hypnotherapy session at Madsen's features a technically challenging continuous circular shot around the table that Grace and Madsen are seated at.
  • One-Track-Minded Artist: Once the amnesiac Grace's real identity is found out, she is returned to her apartment — which is full of drawings, paintings, and sculptures of scissors from her recurring nightmares. When the villain of the film charges at Grace and Mike with the intent to kill them, he is impaled on one of Grace's scissor-nightmare sculptures. Overlaps with My Art, My Memory, in that "Grace" is the reincarnation of a man named Roman, Mike is the reincarnation of Roman's wife Margaret, and the villain is the same boy who stabbed Margaret to death with a pair of scissors 40 years prior. Grace's nightmares stem from past-life memories of the event as Roman finding his wife dead next to a pair of scissors.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Branagh really struggles with an American accent. Thompson does better for the most part, but she does slip with the line, "Tell me something, Mike."
  • Orphanage of Love: What we see of the orphanage that occupies the former Strauss house suggests that it's this; the children are happy and well cared for, and Mike, who grew up there, seems to have nothing but fond memories of the place.
  • Past-Life Memories: Madsen brings out Grace's (and later Mike's) past life memories through hypnosis.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure: When Gray Baker asks Roman if he's afraid to die:
    Roman: To die is different than what anyone supposes, and luckier.
    Gray Baker: Is that a line from your opera?
    Roman: (chuckling) It's Walt Whitman. I can't take credit for everything, Mr. Baker.
  • The Power of Love: Aided by the anklet mentioned above.
  • Private Detective: Mike is a private investigator who specializes in tracking down missing people.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Gray Baker has received Pulitzer Prize recognition for his reporting (the wording of the statement is unclear whether he was a winner of one of the journalism prizes or just a finalist).
  • Reincarnated as the Opposite Sex: The leads were opposite genders in their past lives (and the actors just swapped roles from the Flashback to the present day scenes).
  • Reincarnation: Grace appears to be the reincarnation of a murder victim from sixty years prior. She's not — Mike is.
  • Reincarnation Romance: As they learn more about Roman and Margaret's doomed romance, Mike and Grace appear to be repeating it. With a twist - Roman reincarnates into Grace and Margaret reincarnates into Mike.
  • Rescue Romance: Grace certainly needs to be rescued from someone.
  • Scare Chord: Used effectively (and preceded by a lull in the soundtrack for contrast) in the scene where Mike and Grace argue about the possibility that he murdered her in a previous life.
  • Shear Menace: Margaret was stabbed to death with a pair of scissors. At the climax, Frankie tries to murder Grace with the same pair of scissors, gets stabbed with them in self-defense and ultimately gets impaled on one of Grace's scissor-themed sculptures.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: At the climax of the film, Grace panics and shoots Mike when he reaches inside his jacket, thinking he's reaching for a weapon. She's horrified when she realizes he was actually trying to show her that he'd found Margaret's anklet. Fortunately, he survives.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The film contains several shout-outs to Branagh's previous film, an adaptation of Henry V. Roman's prisoner number is the date of the Battle of Agincourt, the Life magazine with the article about about Roman and Margaret is a 1948 issue with a cover story about Laurence Olivier (who also directed and starred in a film version of Henry V), and a fight scene occurs on Los Angeles' Shakespeare Bridge.
    • The distinctive apartment building where Grace turns out to live was also seen as Philip Marlowe's home in the 1973 film version of The Long Goodbye.
    • When Mike comes to visit her, Inga is watching Sorry, Wrong Number on TV.
  • Silent Whisper: What Roman appears to do in Gray's ear in the flashback at the beginning (see Once More, with Clarity above). Subverted: he actually kisses Gray on the cheek.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Inverted; though Robin Williams does appear prominently in the trailer, he's only in three scenes, and isn't listed in the opening credits or the poster. In interviews, Williams said he did this deliberately so he could play against type, and audiences wouldn't assume the movie was a comedy.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Carlisle - his first words to Mike when Mike tracks him down are, "Fuck you. I'm on a break." See also Life Isn't Fair above.
  • Source Music:
    • Although much of the soundtrack is non-diegetic, a key scene is accompanied by increasingly frantic and disjointed piano music that in-universe is coming from someone rehearsing in a neighboring apartment.
    • Another scene has a dramatic chair reveal accompanied by a musical sting from a television in the background.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: For Mike and Grace at least. Granted, they do have to kill someone in order to get it.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: Grace. Well, mostly screaming.
  • Time Stands Still: In the finale, Mike manages to run across the room and position a giant set of scissors under the villain in the time it takes him to run forward and leap a couple of feet.
  • Visions of Another Self: When Madsen regresses Grace into her past life, she sees Roman and Margaret, who are played by the same actors as Mike and Grace. The twist is that the actors aren't playing the same people in both time periods: Mike is the reincarnation of Margaret, and Grace is the reincarnation of Roman.
  • Vorpal Pillow: Franklyn kills his mother this way for ratting him out to Mike.
  • Wham Line:
    • "I never meant to hurt you, Margaret." Followed immediately by a Scare Chord.
    • The scene where Mike agrees to be regressed has a non-verbal wham moment, when the regressed Mike looks in a mirror and sees the horrified face of Margaret looking back.
  • With This Ring: Mike asks the amnesiac if she wears her Irish Wedding Band (Claddagh ring) in the "married" or "single" position. He's disappointed to see she wears it in the married position until it's revealed they're a reincarnated husband and wife.
  • Year X: When Grace's purse is discovered, containing a driver's license with her real name, the driver's license is in a window pocket that's slightly too small for it, so that the last digit of her birth date is conveniently hidden.