Newest Review: ... for the catatonic encephalitis victims, many of who have been in the hospital for over forty years. After attending a medical conference,... more
Sometimes it's best to let sleeping dogs lie!
Member Name: GentleGenius
Date: 03/04/12, updated on 03/04/12 (71 review reads)
Advantages: True story, very well acted, interesting
Disadvantages: Nothing major, but just a touch slush-bucket here and there
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 115 mins
DIRECTOR: Penny Marshall
PRODUCERS: Lawrence Lasker & Walter F Parkes
SCREENPLAY: Steven Zaillian
MUSIC: Randy Newman
Robert De Niro as Leonard Lowe
Robin Williams as Dr. Malcolm Sayer
Ruth Nelson as Mrs Lowe, Leonard's mother
Julie Kavner as Eleanor
Alice Drummond a Lucy
John Heard as Dr. Kaufman
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Based on true events and on Dr. Oliver Sacks' book in which he tells his own story, Awakenings starts in the late 1920s and is set in The Bronx, where we see a boy fall ill.
The film then jumps forward to the summer of 1969 when Dr. Malcom Sayer accepts a job at a hospital where the patients have long-term, chronic illnesses, some of them (the patients) being in a permanently catatonic state.
It comes to Malcolm Sayer's attention that one patient on his ward (Lucy) displays certain levels of awareness and activity which had previously not been explored, simply because the other members of the medical staff hadn't noticed, due to them believing this type of patient to be completely catatonic, with no breakthrough level and no way out of their locked-in syndrome.
Malcolm Sayer carries out some investigative research, and it comes to light that these patients (including Lucy) all are victims of encephalitis lethargica, of which there was an epidemic in the USA during most of the 1920s.
Back on the ward, Malcolm also notices that another patient, Leonard, is able to communicate by using the letters on an Ouija board to spell out certain words.
From that point onwards, Malcolm sees a ray of hope for the catatonic encephalitis victims, many of who have been in the hospital for over forty years. After attending a medical conference, Malcolm takes an interest in the anti-Parkinson's Disease drug, L-Dopa, believing it will significantly help the catatonic patients to regain at least some level of normality.
Up against a cynical Dr. Kaufman and a lack of funding, Malcolm manages to get permission to administer large doses of L-Dopa to Leonard, more as an experiment than anything.
The drug therapy is successful, and Leonard gradually improves to the point where he is completely normal, which encourages Malcolm to administer the drug to the other encephalitis lethargica victims.
However, in his honourable and noble quest to help his patients, Malcolm's vision of those patients returning to full health is fraught with problems.
See the film yourself to find out more!
I first chose to watch Awakenings in the early 1990s on VHS, simply because I too suffered from encephalitis when I was a small child, albeit a different and potentially less serious form of the illness.
During the very first part of the film, I could relate so strongly to what was happening to the little boy in The Bronx in 1928, whereby in the early stages of the illness, he suffered from bouts of lethargy, sleepiness and loss of coordination. I was one of the lucky ones though in that it was over thirty years later when I contracted that different strain of encephalitis, and medical science had in that time advanced beyond anything previously imagined. I thus was fine after a six week spell in hospital being pumped full of medication, eventually making a complete recovery.
The acting in Awakenings is first class, from the whole cast, but my own personal awards are shared equally between Robert De Niro who was utterly, mind-blowingly wonderful as encephalitis victim Leonard, and Robin Williams who was truly superb as the rather shy and nervous, yet eager, very caring young doctor who has made a major medical breakthrough.
I find most films where the topic revolves around illness to be overly mawkish and soppy...to the point where they become embarrassing...but Awakenings for the most part is intelligently and realistically presented. It is true that there are a couple of brief moments within where the music goes all gooey and what happens on screen comes over as borderline sick-bucket sentimental, but those moments are few and far between, almost being lost within an otherwise down to earth, sensible film.
Despite Awakenings being issued with a U certificate, there is one single instance within the dialogue where the F word is used, and it is very noticeable as it is shouted, but at the end of the day it is up to parents as to whether they are comfortable allowing their children to watch a film of this nature. More importantly, I personally feel that some of the behaviour displayed by Leonard at certain points in the film could unnerve more sensitive children, and perhaps that issue should be taken into consideration far up above a single expletive being present in the dialogue, when deciding if Awakenings is suitable for the little ones to watch. Also, the film has a very adult theme running throughout, which may not be of interest to people under a certain age.
Awakenings is worth watching in itself, even if you have no interest in the medical and patient behaviour aspects, purely because of the commanding performances from both Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. The music throughout is quite gentle....soft piano interspersed with light orchestration, but we are treated to a quick blast of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze and The Zombies' Time Of The Season.
All in all, this is an interesting and absorbing film with a zero boredom factor, and for those (like myself) who are truly turned off by heart-rending mawkishness, the couple of tiny little bits which rear their head are easily ignored. My recommendation is....watch it! I don't think you'll be disappointed.
To close this review on a light note, whilst watching Awakenings, there are various points where some scenes between Robert De Niro (Leonard) and Robin Williams (Dr. Malcolm Sayer) had me wondering how many re-takes they had to do, as I envisage the pair of them collapsing with laughter. Also, it is worth mentioning that the true story originally written by Dr. Oliver Sacks is about his own experience, but his name in both the book and the film has been fictionalised and changed to Dr. Malcolm Sayer.
At the time of writing, Awakenings can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.57 to £195.00 <<<< what???
Used: from £6.98 to £17.99
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Summary: A good, interesting, well-acted true story film