By Gail Rubin
For those who want to win the lottery, Waking Ned Devine provides the reminder you never can tell when your number(s) will come up. As a funeral film, this delightful 1998 comedy shows a beautiful living memorial service scene.
Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan are best friends in the tiny, remote Isle of Man village of Tullymore. They are both lottery fanatics. When Jackie sees a note in the newspaper that the jackpot has been won by one of the town’s 52 residents, they immediately want to discover the winner.
Jackie, his wife Annie, and Michael put together a list of the 18 people who played the lottery that week and invite them to a chicken dinner. At the end of the evening, they still don’t know who won. But they find that one chicken dinner was not consumed. Ned Devine did not attend the party.
Jackie trudges through a storm to bring the chicken dinner to Ned’s seaside cottage. He lets himself in and finds the dinner invitation on the floor next to the door. The TV set flickers in the darkness.
There sits Ned Devine in his easy chair, holding the winning lottery ticket. He had played the lottery all his life and died from the shock of actually winning. Jackie drops the chicken dinner in surprise.
He returns home and tells Annie what he found. She comments, “They say money changes a man, Jackie. There’s no greater change than moving him from life into death.” They wonder if they should call the police or a doctor, then decide Ned’s cold cottage should keep him fresh.
That night, Jackie has a dream that he’s sharing a small boat on a golden sea with Ned Devine. Ned, a fisherman in life, is eating his chicken dinner and insists he wants to share it with Jackie. “Where are we going, Ned?” asks Jackie. “Into the light,” says Ned. “Don’t worry, the tide will bring us safely there.”
Jackie is convinced from his dream that Ned wants to share the winnings, “share the chicken dinner.” As far as anyone knew, he had no family, and no one would inherit the money. Jackie and Michael go back to Ned’s cottage in the middle of the storm.
As Michael looks at Ned’s smiling face, he says, “And I always thought it would be the sea that would take him. He survived all those storms, only to be swept away by a few lottery balls.” They work on setting his features and closing his eyes (actually quite a comical scene).
They hatch a scheme for one of them to pose as Ned and claim the winnings, to be split among the townsfolk. They get most everyone to buy into the scheme.
The day of the funeral, Ned’s body is put in a private van and driven from his seaside cottage into town. For the last steps to the church, his coffin is carried on the shoulders of four stout young men, with the townsfolk following on foot. This English/Irish method of carrying the deceased (on shoulders) is traditional, but it looks painful.
The man from the lottery shows up as everyone gathers for Ned Devine’s funeral. He bursts into the church just as Jackie was about to eulogize Ned. Thinking quickly to save the plan from disaster, Jackie looks over at Michael (posing as Ned), and smiles.
“Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend,” says Jackie. “But I don’t ever remembering telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man that is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be, to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front, and hear what was said. Maybe to say a few things yourself. Michael and I grew old together, but at times, when we laughed, we grew younger. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”
Thus, the transformation of Michael into Ned is complete. How nice it would be to have a similar life celebration while you were still around to hear what people would say about you (see the post about Get Low). Everyone raises a toast to Ned Devine and celebrates their good fortune.
No spoilers for the funny twists at the end of Waking Ned Devine. Get a copy and watch it! Available for rent on Netflix and for sale on Amazon.com.
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death®, is author of the award-winning book A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She hosts the TV program A Good Goodbye and is a popular speaker who uses humor and funny films in her talks. She’s a Certified Funeral Celebrant who helps start funeral planning conversations with a light touch on a serious subject. Her website is www.AGoodGoodbye.com.