Awakenings (1990)

Awakenings (1990)
  • Time: 121 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: Penny Marshall
  • Cast: Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner


A new doctor finds himself with a ward full of catatonic patients. He is disturbed by them and the fact that they have been catatonic for decades with no hope of any cure. When he finds a possible chemical cure he gets permission to try it on one of them. When the first patient awakes, he is now an adult having gone into a catatonic state in his early teens. The film then delights in the new awareness of the patients and then on the reactions of their relatives to the changes in the newly awakened.


  • Based on a true story, “Awakenings” is a touching, stunningly beautiful and emotional movie. Robert De Niro’s performance totally blowed me away, and Robin Williams is wonderful as Dr. Sayer. It also has a memorable story and one I guarantee you won’t forget it. An excellent movie, without any doubt!

  • We begin by following Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a newcomer to a Bronx hospital who has lived his life to this point as a lonely and isolated person. In his first week of working at the hospital, he witnesses a patient named Lucy, who is in what is known as a catatonic state. In observing her, Sayer realizes that she has the ability to catch a ball when it is thrown to her; which contradicts the comatose
    state that she was believed to be in. Even though the other doctors rejected his idea, Sayer stayed confident. As he studies other patients, the doctor comes to the realization that they may not be in a coma, but rather suffering from a Parkinson’s-like disease. One patient in particular who catches Sayer’s attention is Leonard Lowe, and the doctor decides to try out a possible cure for the disease on him by giving him a high dose of the medication used for patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. That night, during the bed check, Leonard is not in his bed. Sayer looks into the game room, and there is Lowe, drawing and talking as if he had been doing so forever.
    Malcolm Sayer had found a cure.
    After giving this medicine to all of the necessary patients, the ward of the hospital, which was once referred to as “The Garden” because all the nurses had to do was feed and give water to the patients, was now lively. Now that they are free to move and interact, the patients developed relationships with others. Especially in the case of Leonard, these new abilities initially are beneficial. However, Leonard’s ability to talk to a patient’s daughter brings about a struggle for his personal freedom to go outside, as he is still a patient, and he cannot stay outside too long. This conflict distances the Leonard and Sayer, and the discovery had become a disaster. Sayer soon realized that the medicine was becoming useless, and the patients start to develop the “ticks” of Parkinson’s once more.

    This film is based on the true story of British neurologist Oliver Sacks’ discovery in the late 1960s. I thought that this movie was a great representation of the struggles that are endured by patients who suffer from diseases like Parkinson’s disease. The “ticks” which are synonymous with this disease create issues with social interactions, and we see that in the case of Leonard and his attempted relationship with a patient’s young daughter.
    The title “Awakenings” has a double meaning; not only are the patients awakened from their catatonic states, but Dr. Sayer is awakened to the fact that life is temporary, and that he needs to make the most of it.
    Both Robert De Niro and Robin Williams bring great acting into this story. Based on extensive research and by talking to Parkinson’s patients, De Niro convinces the audience that he truly is suffering from the disease, and he was nominated for Best Actor as a result.

    Slow in some aspects, so one must stay into it in order to get something out of it

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