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Awakenings (1990) Review

Posted on the 23 October 2020 by Caz @LetsGoToTheMov7
Awakenings (1990) Review

Awakenings is an in-depth look into the victims of an encephalitis epidemic which occurred many years before have been unresponsive ever since. With no hope for them until Dr. Malcolm Sayer began to notice responses or reflexes and campaigns to trial a new drug.


Based on the very true story but with a fictional leading character Dr Malcolm Sawyer our hero for wanting to do a good job and never giving up is a fictionalised version of Dr Oliver Sacks who wrote the book in which Awakenings is based on along with the documentary which captured the effects of L-Dopa on his patients. These were survivors of an epidemic which took place between 1917-1928. Leonard Lowe is our main patient who was just a child when it happened to him. With only his mother coming to visit and caring for him, everything would change when Dr. Sawyer came into his life.

With this what feels like a wonder drug awakens the patients after many decades it would bring them so many problems trying to adapt and come to terms with missing that much time. Being so much older and everything being different it was never going to be easy. We follow Leonard very closely and cannot help but truly feel sorry for him. He has missed the majority of his life but not only that growing up and experiencing different feelings. He is the one who struggles with the restrictions in place at the hospital.

With the drug being trialled it was never sure of the success if any. One particular scene that really does fill you with joy was after Leonard was showing progress, the rest of the patients were given it and the reaction from the staff when they were woken. Creating so many amazing moments you cannot help but feel pure joy at this outcome. Although when you then take into consideration everything they had missed it feels you with a deep sadness that life was taken away from them leaving an empty shell.

I have watched Awakenings a few times now and it really does make you feel both incredibly sad and happy. In some moments you feel them both at the same time, this is mainly due to remembering that this is based on a true story. This really did happen to people and some did not care at all, I personally find that utterly tragic.

The performances are outstanding with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro really taking all of the plaudits. Both in scenes together and apart it is just a true joy to watch from start to finish. Bringing out the best in one another is certainly the case. De Niro was not given an easy role and physically he really had to change and adapt throughout, something that is very impressive to watch and it is very easy to understand how he was Oscar nominated. Penelope Ann Miller is another who really stood out for me and I felt she had fantastic chemistry with Williams. Adding a truly unique and I'd like to say lovely presence.

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