The other day when I reviewed Pretty in Pink (1986), I mentioned how watching it is like a stroll down memory lane given that it is set in Elgin, Illinois, a couple towns north from where I was born. I had not seen While You Were Sleeping (1995) until recently, but it made me remember that my nostalgia for the Land of Lincoln is chronologically compartmentalized. You see, all the memories of places like Elgin are consigned to my childhood, growing up there and visiting on holidays and in the summer after we moved away. A film like the latter takes place almost entirely in the “City of Big Shoulders.” I lived there, too, during my time at Loyola University Chicago, though I still visited my family in the suburbs on the weekends. I loved my time in both places, but I think of them differently. Either way, both films remind me of home, but today we are talking about While You Were Sleeping.
I knew what I was seeing from the beginning of While You Were Sleeping when we see Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) fare collector drone Lucy Eleanor Moderatz (Sandra Bullock) on one of the Loop platforms. I recognized it immediately having been on it several times, but that is aside from the point. I say “drone” because her days are usually mundane until Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher) steps up to her window to get his ticket and catch the train. She has been noticing him for some time, even if he has taken little notice of her, though it being Christmas time he gives her a smile and a season’s greeting before moving onto the platform. Once there, Peter gets mugged and knocked to the tracks where he lays unconscious and about to be hit by the oncoming train. Coming to his rescue is Lucy, and she goes with him to the hospital. When she is denied access to where he is being taken because they are of no relation, she sees an opportunity slipping away and voices aloud her frustrations by saying that she wanted to marry him. Be careful what you say. This is overheard by a nurse, who confuses the situation, and takes Lucy to be Peter’s actual fiancée. The nurse informs the gathered Callaghans, who are there for their comatose son, and they take Lucy into their group of onlookers. Everything is happening too fast for her to admit anything, so she lets it go for the moment. She has also never experienced a family like this, and it is also something she has wanted all her life. As such, she accepts an invitation from them to spend a late Christmas with them so that they can get to know this woman about whom Peter had told them nothing. This is when Peter’s brother Jack Callaghan (Bill Pullman) arrives at the house. Though he is not the first to be suspicious of Lucy, he is the most persistent about it, and his misgivings are not dispelled by them spending time together. This is reinforced when Jack takes Lucy back to Peter’s swanky downtown apartment and the doorman does not recognize her. She is also unfamiliar with the surroundings. Finally, though this goes unheard by Jack, there is message on Peter’s his answering machine from Ashley Bartlett Bacon (Ally Walker), Peter’s real fiancée. Despite what seems to be evident lying, a real connection seems to be forming between Jack and Lucy. This is helpful for her because there is a rather pushy man in her apartment building that will not stop trying ask her out on a date. What is not helpful for her is when Peter finally awakens from his coma. By this point, Lucy has basically integrated herself into the Callaghan family that it does not seem like there is any way to admit the truth despite her feelings for Jack. As one would expect, Peter has no recollection of Lucy, and everyone chalks it up as lingering amnesia from his fall and subsequent coma. He goes along with it, too, and spends time with Lucy to get to know the person that everyone believes is the one he is supposed to marry. He receives a little extra encouragement from his Godfather, Saul Tuttle (Jack Warden), who knows Lucy’s secret having overheard her admit it to Peter while he was under. Because they all like Lucy, Saul tells him to propose all over to Lucy, and move ahead with the wedding. Still she hesitates to tell the truth, and instead appeals to Jack for a reason not to go through with the wedding. He does not give one even though he obviously loves her. It is not until they are together on the altar with the priest about to begin the ceremony that she finally confesses everything. The ensuing chaos is compounded when Ashley finally shows up at the wedding, and a shocked Peter recognizes her. In the uproar, an embarrassed Lucy slinks off unnoticed. Now it is back to her daily grind working for the CTA. What saves her from the mundanity is Jack, who steps to her window on the elevated platform and hands her a ring. This is his marriage proposal, surrounded by the rest of the Callaghan family with their smiling approval. This leads to the final scene is of the two of them, married, heading off to Lucy’s dream honeymoon in Florence, Italy.
At the end of While You Were Sleeping, the newlyweds are on the back of a special “L” car. For the record, you cannot get to Italy on one of those. They can, however, take you the airport, which is a good start. Clearly, Lucy is a blessed person, though I had to wonder about her character throughout the film. Credit should go to the Callaghan for their generosity, and they do what the Bible commands us to do in terms how we treat strangers. You can argue this point with me if you want, but it also occurs to me that the Callaghans are Catholic, which I think helps a lot more than people think. Still, generosity is not the sole purview of Catholics. What I would rather like to focus on is Lucy seemingly taking advantage of that generosity. To be fair, she does feel bad about it, and it is a source of angst throughout. It is not an uncommon feeling for many of us, even when we are not faced with masquerading as the fiancée of somebody in a coma. Far too often, we do not know how to handle it when people are nice to us, even shunning the attempts to do so. This applies greatly to Faith. God’s love is unconditional. It is not transactional, which is how we view the favors that others attempt to do for us. I am just as guilty as anyone else in this matter. While it is good to want to do something kind in return for kindness, and there are some that expect it, know that a grace has occurred with or without the reciprocity. And because we do not know how to receive the unconditional love, I feel this explains why so many turn away from Faith. New age beliefs are more in line with this reciprocal arrangement. Karma is a good example of this concept. Christianity says differently, that we should emulate God simply by being good to others with no expectation of reward. God stores those up for us. That is why I admire the Callaghans. They do not hold Lucy’s mistakes against her. In the end, she finds a way to accept them, too.
I enjoyed While You Were Sleeping not only because I recognized many places I used to frequent while I was at Loyola, but also due to it starring Sandra Bullock. I cannot think of too many films of hers that I have not liked in some way. Consider this one a full recommendation.