Sunday, November 14, 2010

Awake: Grade C


Awake (2007)

Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terence Howard, Lena Olin. Writer-Director Joby Harold.

Christensen is a young business tycoon with an international, multi-billion dollar empire, but a defective heart. He needs a heart transplant. While he waits for a donor, he falls in love with the domestic help, his mother’s secretary (Alba). Mom (Olin) does not approve, but what can you do. The donor heart comes through and the young tycoon (way too young to be even close to believable in that role) goes under the knife of transplant surgeon Howard, the only one in this movie who is a good actor. For reasons unknown and unexplained, the patient experiences a rare (actually disputed) condition called anaesthetic awareness, in which his body is immobilized but he retains full consciousness during surgery. He hears everything that is said in the operating room, much to his own surprise and panic. What he hears is a plot against his life. Improbably, he is saved at the last minute and the bad guys get their due.

Reported cases of anaesthetic awareness are rare in the medical literature, mostly anecdotal and not well documented, and strongly denied by both anaesthesiologists I happen to know. In the most credible reports, patients have post-surgery memory of snippets of conversation, from which we can deduce they were, at least partially, awake. Full waking consciousness during anaesthesia has never been documented, to my knowledge. That the patient could do crime-solving problem-analysis under anaesthesia is not believable. Other facts depicted, such as the idea that the patient feels pain or might cry, are virtually impossible. But hey, it’s a movie.

The crime story is just barely believable but it hangs together better than the central biological premise. What makes the movie worth watching is that it is well made. The open heart shots are very good, very realistic. When the patient is supposed to be awake, we see him walking, running, and hovering around the hospital corridors like a ghost, trying, in vain of course, to convince other players to save him. That was a creative approach. Alba does a reasonable acting job, but I couldn’t stop wondering about all the cosmetic surgery she has obviously had, at such a young age. Hollywood is extremely harsh on women. Unfortunately, Christensen, playing the main character, was the weakest actor. Music was inoffensive, editing notably good, directing competent. Worth watching on DVD or on TV.

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