Awakenings (1991)

There is no such thing as a simple miracle.

Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a shy research physician, uses an experimental drug to "awaken" the catatonic victims of a rare disease. Leonard is the first patient to receive the controversial treatment. His awakening, filled with awe and enthusiasm, proves a rebirth for Sayer too, as the exuberant patient reveals life's simple but unutterably sweet pleasures to the introverted doctor.

***A ‘hospital film’ with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, based on a true story***
A shy doctor (Robin Williams) gets a job at a Bronx hospital in 1969 where he attends to several patients in a catatonic state after the encephalitis epidemic of 1917–28. He experiments with a new drug that offers the hope of reviving them. Robert De Niro plays his key patient, Julie Kavner his nurse and John Heard his supervisor. Penelope Ann Miller is also on hand as a potential romantic interest.
"Awakenings” (1990) is based on Oliver Sacks' 1973 memoir of the same name, which chronicled the true event that occurred the summer of ’69. Being a hospital movie about ailing people trying to recover puts it in the same camp as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” (1975) and “Instinct” (1999), but it’s not as compelling.
There’s just not enough human interest beyond the viewer being sympathetic toward the patients’ plight and wanting them to get well. It’s also marred by some blatant predictableness, like Leonard’s name on the bench and the “cup of coffee” aspect. Still, this is a tale that needed to be told and I’m not sorry I watched it. It’s just overrated.
The film runs 2 hours and was shot in Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, New York City.
GRADE: C+

Parkes/Lasker productions by Penny Marshall, Oliver Sacks, Steven Zaillian.
Stars: Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner, Ruth Nelson.

Genres: Biography, Drama

Keywords: coma based on novel or book experiment miracle hope based on a true story hospital illness woman director comatose

01/11/1991

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