Awakenings tells the true and poignant story of the relationship between a New York Doctor and the patient he helped 'awaken' from a catatonic state. Robin Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a shy and introverted experimental scientist who is sent to Bainbridge Hospital in New York during the summer of 1969.
While working there he comes across a ward full of patients who seem to be living statues. They are the survivors of the 1916 'Sleeping Sickness' epidemic, and they have remained imprisoned within themselves for decades. Dr. Sayer becomes attached to the youngest survivor, a man named Leonard Lowe, played brilliantly by Robert De Niro. He's convinced that there is a cure for their illness, and after a long period of research he develops an experimental drug which he tests on Leonard.
The results are miraculous and Leonard and the other patients are freed from their catatonic state. A friendship between the two men develop, and Sayer helps Leonard adjust to the new world around him, while Leonard helps Sayer to overcome his social anxieties.
Despite the progress that Leonard makes, an unforeseen problem might bring his development to a halt. This problem threatens to shatter Sayer's friendship with Leonard, and make Sayer question his faith in himself and others.
The plot might seem sentimental or even mawkish, but the film is intelligent enough not to stray into those traps. Instead it remains a haunting and tragic story. It is made doubly poignant considering it's inspired by the memoirs of Dr. Oliver Sacks, and is based on actual events.
I first saw this film when I was very young, and although I forgot the film's name, the story stayed with me for many years. It was only recently that I got to see the film again, and it is even more powerful the second time round. Friends and family who have watched the film were also moved by it.
The acting by all the cast is excellent, while the music and cinematography are very good. The film was nominated for many awards, and won several of them. It was even nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Actor, Best Film and Best Screenplay.
The film is definately worth watching at least once, as it is a tragic but uplifting experience.
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