American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There is a mystery in "Waking the Dead," and at the end we are supplied with its answer, but I have seen the movie twice and do not know for sure what the answer is. There are two possibilities. Either would do.
If it were a thriller or a ghost story, it wouldn't much matter, but the film has serious romantic and political themes, and in one way or another we really need to know, or it's all been a meaningless game.
The film begins in 1982, when a young politician named Fielding Pierce (Billy Crudup) learns on the news that his friend Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) has been killed by a car bomb attack in Minneapolis. She was working with a group of political activists opposed to U.S. actions in Chile. Fielding screams out in anguish, and we flash back to his first meeting with Sarah, in 1972, when she was his brother's secretary. The brother publishes a magazine very much like Rolling Stone. Fielding is in the Coast Guard to avoid service in Vietnam. Sarah is self-confident, outspoken, political.
The film, based on the novel by Scott Spencer, is a tug of war between Fielding's desire to work within the system and Sarah's conviction that it's rotten to the core. As they grow closer romantically, they grow further apart politically, until finally their love is like a sacrifice thrown on the bonfire of their ambitions. There comes a time at a fund-raising benefit when Sarah tells off a fat-cat who has written a column supporting the military junta in Chile. That is not good for Fielding's career.