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.
Awakenings is a classic feel-good drama. You can see the strings, but you can also see that the intentions are good.
Watching this film knowing that Robin Williams killed himself because he had Parkinson's disease makes the viewing very sad. Apart from that, his duo with Robert De Niro is obviously top notch.
The end of the film is also extremely emotional, when Leonard says "I won't see you anymore..." That was really difficult yet very moving.
What I also liked was the fact that Robin Williams' character was, in a way, also asleep. This is quite a powerful message and talks to all of us. As Leonard tells him at some point: "You're the one's asleep!". Always remember that. Never get asleep.
I give it 7 out of 10. Excellent.
***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.