Saturday, January 12, 2019


Movie Name: Awakenings
Year of Release: 1990
Director: Penny Marshall
Starring: Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, John Heard, Julie Kavner, Penelope Anne Miller, Max Von Sydow, Ruth Nelson, Alice Drummond, Richard Libertini, Anne Meara, Dexter Gordon
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6 
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
"Awakenings" is the third film in Penny Marshall's directorial career, and follows the successful "Big", which was a turning point for both her and Tom Hanks' careers. "Awakenings" is an adaptation of the book by Dr. Oliver Sacks, and follows the events that took place in his career when he dealt with a group of patients who had survived the encephalitis lethargica epidemic (which lasted between 1917-1928). The film takes place in 1969, and the adaptation places the center of the narrative upon the relationship established between Leonard Lowe, a patient who had been catatonic since he was 11 years old, and Dr. Malcolm Sayer (the proxy for Dr. Sacks). When Dr. Sayer manages to change the medication for the patients, after much research and hurdles, that trial run slowly produces effects and brings Leonard to life. This awakening, allows him to restart his life, develop new relationships, much to the disbelief of his elderly mother. This awakening is however not without issues - Leonard's mood starts shifting and he starts developing tics that indicate that the medication may not be entirely successful.
"Awakenings" is a fictionalized version of Dr. Sacks' book, and covers the events surrounding his tenure in an Hospital in the Bronx, where through a series of trials, he managed to change medication routines, and impact the lives of patients who had been catatonic for decades (this is obviously a mere snippet of the tremendous work performed by Dr. Sacks). The film and the screenplay give the overall story un-necessary embellishments, by adding love interests for both Leonard and Malcolm (which in the case of Robin Williams' character wasn't even realistic since Dr. Sacks was in fact gay). Those embellishments are extended to the portrayal of Leonard who suddenly, upon waking up, becomes a savant, telling the shy Dr. Sayer that life is all about taking chances, seizing the day and generally exploring the reality that surrounds us all (he goes from catatonic to New Age Guru). The film is more successful when it captures the emergence of Leonard from his sleep, and Malcom's attempts at saving these patients whose lives have been stunted by such a terrible ailment. It's a film that lives primarily from the two main performers, with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams balancing each other perfectly, with the first one creating a character dazzled by everything he discovers, while Robin Williams channels his enormous energy inwards, and creates someone shy, but deeply emotional and committed. It's a somewhat forgettable film, but nonetheless a watchable one due to the talent assembled.