What it is to be Alive
Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams) finds himself taking a job at a hospital where they take care of patients with conditions which leave them with no hope, as an orderly describes it this is a garden where they water and feed the plants but that it is. But Sayer is a doctor with a restless mind and when he notices that one catatonic patient is able to catch a ball tossed at her it leads him on a quest to get to the bottom of these patient's conditions and hopefully help them to regain some sort of life through an experimental drug. With the agreement of one patient's mother Dr. Sayer starts giving an experimental drug to Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro) and after some trial and error as well as plenty of patience and risk taking he manages to gain some results. But will the outcome really have the pay off which Dr. Sayer hoped for or will there be some thing more surprising.
As a movie reviewer you roll the dice and some times you find yourself watching a string of movies which do little to inspire you and then other times you get one good movie after another. In truth before I sat down to watch and review "Awakenings" I knew it was a good movie as I had watched it once over 20 years earlier and remember being moved by this drama. In fairness whilst I was once again moved as I watched "Awakenings" I was much more aware to feeling like I was being manipulated but I didn't mind because some times you just need a slice of something which reminds you that being alive is a privilege.
Now "Awakenings" is inspired by a true story, that of British neurologist Oliver Sacks who worked with catatonic patients and I used the word inspired for several reasons including the fact that some in the medical profession appear to disagree with Sacks' research, his approach and the fame which has come from the books he has written. I have no interest in the argument but will say this story works as a movie as it features a wonderful storyline which evolves from Dr. Sayer's initial discovery to the consequences of his research, the scepticism of his superiors and how what happened has a surprising effect on people. I am trying to skirt around the detail because the charm of "Awakenings" is in the way the story evolves and encompasses things such as Leonard discovering he has been catatonic for 30 years and the world has changed and how his awakening is in a way a trend setter for the other patients who end up on the same drug with what happens to Leonard being what others can expect.
The thing is that I said that I knew I was being manipulated and scene after scene has the swell of human kindness which makes you feel good. A scene where Sayer's superior rejects his plea to try the drug on other patients lifts you when the staff sign over their pay checks to pay for it. We also see how all the patients awakening has a comical effect as the staff struggle with these patients suddenly coming to life and no longer being sleeping statues if you like. There is a whole lot more and "Awakenings" is so rich in detail that you have to watch it to appreciate the screenplay and the direction of Penny Marshall which whilst manipulative also has the desired effect.
There is of course the acting and both Robert De Niro and Robin Williams deliver everything from drama to comedy, heart warming and darkness which makes "Awakenings" work as a fun movie, a drama as well as a movie which tugs on your heart strings. It is also through their performances that we get reminded about what is important in life. But De Niro and Williams are surrounded by so many enjoyable performances especially from Julie Kavner who steals many a scene as Nurse Costello.
What this all boils down to is that "Awakenings" may now be 25 years old but it is still a fantastic movie which runs the gamut of emotion as it makes you sad and makes you happy whilst reminding us about the importance of living life as it can be taken from you at any time.