Awakenings, oozing with genuine emotions, surpasses being a pure medical drama and touches upon the power of everlasting human spirit, which still keeps this world running. Based on a book of true events in 1969 surrounding the brief awakenings of catatonic patients suffering from encephalitis, the film is a profoundly moving experience as in the end you get truly inspired to live a life that appreciates the simplest things.
Dr. Malcolm Sayer is a shy, lonely man, and a research doctor who has never had worked with patients before. And Leonard is a catatonic patient for 30 years, who has never truly had the privilege to express his feelings to the outside world. They come together for what turns out to be not just a doctor-patient relationship but a friendship beyond reproach. Though the film centers on the predicament of Leonard and his lost years and the abundant joy he experiences during his brief awakening, it is really about Dr. Sayer and how Leonard’s struggle becomes a life-changing event to the doctor. It is about his own awakening.
Robert De Niro, playing Leonard, delivers an untouchable performance that elevates the film to be an intense journey on compassion, empathy, and human rights. Is there a role that he can’t play? Right from playing a paranoid, perverse civilian in Taxi Driver to a skillful bounty hunter in Midnight Run to a philosophizing psycho-stalker in Cape Fear to a mafioso boss in Casino, De Niro has enthralled you over the years with his preparedness, precision, and power of expression. And Robin Williams, playing Dr. Sayer, calm, mature, and underplaying to great effect, exemplifies the strength of a supporting role. Directed by Penny Marshall, Awakenings is a silent masterpiece and most importantly, a tale of redemption – given and taken away.