Awakenings

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SIMPLE MIRACLE. 

In 1969, physician Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams) arrives at a Bronx hospital; after successfully using a different drug for catatonic patients, he sees them miraculously ”wake up”. This adaptation of Oliver Sacks’s experiences depicts the obvious anxiety and joy of coming back to life after being gone for decades, combining it with the challenges facing the shy and lonely doctor himself. Sacks thought the movie sentimentalized the story too much; I’m sure he’s right, but this is still fascinating and believable, with a lot to ponder. Terrific, touching performances by Williams and Robert De Niro as one of the recently awakened patients who suffers terribly.

1990-U.S. 121 min. Color. Produced by Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes. Directed by Penny Marshall. Screenplay: Steven Zaillian. Book: Oliver Sacks. Cast: Robert De Niro (Leonard Lowe), Robin Williams (Malcolm Sayer), Julie Kavner (Eleanor Costello), Ruth Nelson, John Heard, Penelope Ann Miller… Max von Sydow, Peter Stormare, Dexter Gordon, Bradley Whitford, Vin Diesel.

Trivia: Diesel’s first film. Steven Spielberg allegedly considered directing; at one point, Bill Murray was considered for the part of Lowe.

Last word: “Robin had already done a drama, ‘Dead Poets Society,’ but he told me he was afraid Bobby was going to blow him off the screen. I said, ‘I won’t let that happen.’ So it was my job to keep Robin from being funny. We had a shorthand signal for when he got a little flamboyant, improvising.” (Marshall, The New Yorker)

 

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