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death in ‘sleepless in seattle’ - saachi gupta

It has been two nights since I finally watched Sleepless in Seattle for the first time. It’s always seemed to me like one of those films that everyone in the world has somehow watched.

Although I don’t usually watch a lot of movies, I have been on a bit of a light rom-com spree lately– a small break from the never-ending pain of existence, and what not– so, Sleepless in Seattle at 10:30pm, it was.

Released in 1993, the movie has become something of a classic over the years, and as soon as it started, I could see why.

There’s Tom Hanks who plays Chicago-born Sam Baldwin– an architect, a widower and the father of Jonah, an eight year-old boy.

There’s Meg Ryan who plays Annie Reed– a cheery and warm journalist, engaged to her boyfriend Walter.

Add a little romance, a few sweet lines, gorgeous sceneries and powerful songs– and you’ve got yourself a classic 90s rom-com.

The beginning of the movie, though, is hardly a light break from the never-ending pain of existence.

Sleepless in Seattle starts off on a grim note, with the death of Sam Baldwin’s wife, Maggie.

“Mommy got sick. And it happened just like that. There was nothing anybody could do. It isn’t fair. There’s no reason. But if we start asking why, we’ll go crazy,” Sam tells his son, as they stand together, looking at his wife's grave.

It’s heart-wrenching– the entrance of Death as a character so early on into the story. It sets the mood for the first half of the story, as Sam moves to Seattle with his son, for a new beginning.

“Someplace where every time I go around a corner, I don’t think of Maggie,” as he puts it.

It’s clear from every word that Sam utters, how much he loved– loves– Maggie. How lost and gloomy he feels without her, and how his son, Jonah, is probably the only thing keeping him going.

It's a reminder, when we see him a year and a half later, still just as lost, that healing is gradual. It takes time and effort and an impossible amount of will power. And even then, sometimes, it takes forever.

One of the most heart-breaking scenes in the movie, is when Jonah wakes up from a nightmare about a year after his mother’s death, shouting for her.

His father rushes in to comfort him, and it is then that Jonah confesses something heartbreaking.

“I’m starting to forget her,” he whispers to his father. In response, Sam only hugs his son tightly.

While Sam is grieving the loss of his wife, he is also mourning the fact that he will probably never find love again. It came for him once and that’s enough.

A year later, he still imagines his wife Maggie nearby, waking up from dreams of her and thinking of how much he misses her. When Jonah asks him if he believes in heaven, Sam replies, “I never did. I mean, the whole idea of an afterlife … But now, I don’t know. ‘Cause I have these dreams. About your mom. And we have these long talks about you and how you’re doing, which she sort of knows, but I tell her anyway. So what is that? That’s sort of an afterlife, isn’t it?”

The story really begins when Jonah calls up a radio show to ask for a new wife for his father. He talks about how it’s been a year since his mother died and his father is still sad and hardly sleeps, and eventually, Sam is unwillingly put on the phone and asked to share his feelings.

He talks about Maggie, how he fell in love with her, without knowing that there are hundreds of girls all over the country swooning over his words: “It was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together, and I knew it. I knew it the first time I touched her. It was like coming home, only to no home I’d ever known. I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew it. It was like magic.”

He talks about how he’s coping, about how much he misses Maggie, and it’s another one of those moments that breaks your heart into tiny pieces: “I’m gonna get out of bed every morning … breathe in and out all day long. Then after a while, I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out. And then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.”

Despite all the sadness and broken hearts, the movie, eventually is a message of hope. Things start getting better, looking up– Sam begins to consider seeing other girls, then he’s seeing other girls.

The female protagonist Annie, meanwhile, dreams of Sam every day, after having listened to his call on the radio. She realizes that even though her boyfriend is a good man, there is no magic, no spark between the two.

Soon enough, she’s one of the hundreds of girls writing him a letter, and before we know it, she’s in Seattle, trying to meet Sam.

Even though Sam and Annie don’t end up talking until the very end of the movie, the chemistry and magic between them is clear. When Sam's son reads Annie's letter, he feels an instant connection to her and is determined to make her his new mother.

There is some more talk of magic and past lives– one of Jonah's friends is a hundred percent certain that Sam and Annie knew each other in another life, which is why there’s an undeniable connection between the two. When Sam sees Annie for the first time– without even knowing who she is– he is awestruck and drawn to her. Annie feels the exact same way when she first hears Sam's voice.

But even with all of the pining and connections, the ghost of Maggie remains.

It is the panic of losing someone unexpectedly that makes Sam more protective of his son– he is gentler but also constantly worried about something happening to Jonah. It is obvious that every time Sam doesn’t see his son around, his mind goes to the worst-case scenarios, and he panics.

That’s what Death does to you– it makes you anxious and paranoid, and the feelings remain, almost permanent, even if it's been a while since the loss. It makes you want to protect everyone you love even more.

It is only at the end of the movie that Sam and Annie finally meet properly, and there is instantly that magic, the spark that both Sam and Annie so desperately craved.

It is undeniable that Death is one of the protagonists in Sleepless in Seattle.

Without it, the story would never have begun.

Death took so much away from Sam, but eventually, he found love again. He grew as he grappled with the loss of his beloved wife, but he still got better, even though it took a while.

Sleepless in Seattle is thus, to me, a message of hope. A message that no matter how hard things are, they will get better and happiness will be found again.


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