"Awakenings," the new movie directed by Penny Marshall of "Laverne and Shirley" fame, focuses on the mysterious "sleeping" disease that caused its victims to remain in a trance for as long as fifty years. Based on a true story, the movie depicts the attempt of Dr. Sayer (Robin Williams) to cure this ailment in those who have remained oblivious to what happens around them. Sayer believes that this disease can be treated with an experimental drug.
When he administers it to one particular patient, Leonard Lowe (Robert DeNiro), he almost miraculously wakes up and becomes a normal human being, as if nothing had happened. An entire ward of afflicted patients is also awakened with this drug. The patients are able to make up for lost time, doing what they had never been able to do.
For some, however, the return to life is a traumatic one. Some find their spouses dead; others find their children have left; and some cannot cope with the fact they have lost almost fifty years of their lives.
Unfortunately, the drug has serious side-effects that produce mood changes. The originally grateful Leonard changes into the furious instigator of a revolution among the mental patients of the hospital after he is denied unaccompanied access to the outside world.
DeNiro turns in a superb performance eerily similar to that of Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man." Williams adds comic flavor to the movie in his portrayal of the shy and lonely Dr. Sayer. Other fine performances included Julie Kavner, as a nurse with a crush on Dr. Sayer and Penelope Ann Miller, who plays the daughter of a stroke patient who unknowingly is the object of Leonard's love. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.