I am inclined to say that it is possible that no sweeter movie exists than Waking Ned Devine. The 1998 offering from director Kirk Jones will tug at your heart, even if you consider yourself the least emotional of person. A film focusing on the most rural and antiquated of communities, Waking Ned Devine mesmerizes viewers as much as it confounds its characters, making for a movie that sneaks up on you by becoming not only a pitch-perfect comedy, but also a masterfully thought provoking film on love, death and everything in between. The film takes advantage of the ethereal landscape that is rural Ireland and makes the character interact with it in such a way that they seem to grow from its ground and exist only as a portion of its natural changes. In essence, Waking Ned Devine is not an art house masterpiece, but it is a fun movie that I cannot imagine not enjoying.
Waking Ned Devine, as noted earlier follows the lives of a group of rural villagers as they engage with one another in their daily lives. The characters, mostly elderly range from husband and wife Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) and Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) and their dandy friend Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) to the foul-smelling, yet likeable pig farmer Finn (James Nesbitt). The entirety of the community seems destined to adhere to stereotypes and assume individuals are standoffish, until they discover that somebody in their community has won the national lottery. This discovery changes everything as the townsfolk begin treating each other suspiciously nicely with hopes of inheriting a reward from the unknown lottery winner. Jackie and Annie throw a party with hopes of outing the winner only to discover that the winner, Ned Devine, failed to attend the party. Jackie plans to confront Ned only to discover the elderly fisherman dead from shock. Jackie shares his discovery with his dear friend Michael and the duo sets out on an elaborate plan to pretend that one of them is indeed Ned Devine with the intentions of claiming the prize. The duo, with the unwilling help of Annie, sets out to convince the town that they are capable of pulling of the illusion and plan out their elaborate hoax. This, as should be no surprise, comes with many obstacles and a healthy amount of laughs. I would explain in detail, but that would ruin the enjoyment of viewing the film. Needless to say, it proves to be a bonding experience for the entire village.
The film, though sweet, certainly deals with some heavy issues, most notably the existential understanding of death. The tragedy in this film comes when the village realizes Ned Devine's relevance only after his death, and even with this occurrence his life is only questioned, at first, because of a financial boon. The value of a person's life, throughout most of the film, is equated to purely economic standards, which is very capitalist in its nature. This is surprising given that the town is rural and appears to run off antiquated economic systems of bartering. However, even such a small community cannot escape the capitalist arm of a nation, which is reflected in the lottery. This ties inevitably into death in the film, because it is ultimately the nation who must verify Ned's life, or in this case existence. I am SPOILING the film here in saying that the national lottery fails to realize that Ned is indeed dead and values the life of another as his. Fortunately for the village they see the error in the nations ways and celebrate Ned's life right in the face of the nation and value it as something far greater than his financial gift. It reminds us that the gifts that people leave us in death are often far more than physical and, in fact, the loss of one person can often cause divided factions to unite, which is of a value far grander.
Waking Ned Devine is an accessible movie that is meant to be watched, and enjoyed, by many people. It is not perfect and by no means revolutionary; however, I would suggest renting it and watching it with some friends.