Best Picture Profile: Awakenings

Directed by: Penny Marshall

Company: Columbia Pictures Corporation

Runtime: 121 minutes


It’s one of those forgotten movies nominated for best picture. And I can see why.

The movie is about Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a new doctor in a hospital with living statues in it as patients, who sdecides to experiment on a chemical drug as a try to ‘awaken’ the patients. And he did succeed on slowly ‘awakening’ the patients. But he makes a rather special bond of friendship with one of the patients, Leonard Lowe.

I just want to say first that this is one of the most subtle/quiet films I have ever seen, hence it’s, for now, the most subtle best picture nominee I have ever seen. Not only literally, but on how the film develops.

There’s a lot to praise in this film.

The acting is top-notch. Robin Williams, the real lead of this film, is superb as the conflicted but daring doctor. There’s a lot of going around his mind, mainly medical conflicts. And I’m glad he didn’t do any of his comedic acts. because it won’t fit to the soul of his character whatsoever. There is subtle humor in this movie, and it’s very subtle that I didn’t imagine Williams can do that. There is this one funny scene when he’s excited to see his patient doing such progess, and he asks where is his glasses, only to find out that it’s in his eyes the whole time. He brings it so naturally that some people may not notice it. He was like so in his character in this movie.

Robert DeNiro is in his top form as the catatonic patient Leonard Lowe. Again, I was surprised on how subtle he was here. His early catatonic scenes could have been so fake, adding extreme mannerisms, but he does it in a simple yet very vibrant way. And when he awakens, it is uplifting! The character have been on that state for decades, and when he awakens, htere is this childhood feeling that totally suits his character.

There is already the mark of mastery in his performance here. But he never makes us feel that it was too easy for him. Sure, DeNiro could have done that in his sleep, but on the way he makes a fully rounded character is just so complicated that even he has less screentime than Williams, it’s him that will leave a mark on the viewers.

His best scene, for me, comes in a pair. The first one is when his mother first sees him for the first time as an awakened man. His joy is so juvenile but justified. It could have been one of those misfortunes of the over-used childish act, but he does it in a way that both outburst and subtlety are mixing in a very gentle way that you just can’t hold back your tears. And it’s no cheese.

The second one is when he readies for a walk outside and he was not allowed to. The way he breaks down is not fake. He doesn’t go overboard, he knows his character, he knows that when he breaks down, it should be no ordinary breakdown since he is with a very different character. And he does it so well. The role might be Oscary, but I don’t think his performance here is flashy.

That’s what really makes the whole film work so well: subtle acting.

Outside of that, there’s nothing really noteworthy. They all live up to the subtle atmosphere, but they’re not really to remember, after all. The film itself is not flashy, but I just have the hard time on naming it as remarkbale or something like outstanding.

Maybe the screenplay is to credit for those extremely heart-tugging scenes. Maybe the music is to credit for the creation of this quiet period of time.

But is there really OUTSTANDING here?

The movie has a special place in my heart because on how it came of as a naturally emotionally affecting movie. It uses simplicity and honesty to make the film work. Because I don’t think the movie would have worked if it turned noisier.

Also, the director, Penny Marshall, was a totally smart choice for the direction. She knows how to handle her film. The film is soft but never fluffy. Easy to watch but not substandard. She did so much to the film because she gave the movie the needed movie magic touch for the film to work on such emotional levels.

I don’t think the film was really made to be a tearjerker. I think it was made as an emotional character study. And, beside for DeNiro’s performance, I don’t think it was made with Oscar aroun the whole film.

The best words to describe the film? SOLID, SUBTLE and EMOTIONALLY AFFECTING.

But it just have the tendencies to be forgotten. I don’t know who’s really to blame. It’s timeless, and natural, but it never really tried to make something new.

For this, the movie gets :


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