Awakenings (1990)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

Based on a true story as related by neurologist Oliver Sacks, Awakenings stars Robin Williams as the Sacks counterpart, here named Dr. Malcolm Sayer. Something of a klutz and naif, Dr. Sayer takes a job at a Bronx psychiatric hospital in 1969. Here he's put in charge of several seemingly catatonic patients who, under Sayer's painstaking guidance, begin responding to certain stimulati. Apprised of the efficacy of a new drug called L-DOPA in treating degenerative-disease victims, Sayer is given … More

Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Steven Zaillian, Paul W. Shapiro
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 28, 2001
Columbia Pictures


as Leonard Lowe

as Dr. Malcolm Sayer

as Eleanor Costello

as Mrs. Lowe

as Dr. Kaufman

as Miriam

as Rolando

as Dr. Peter Ingham

as Frances

as Nurse Margaret

as Janitor

as Hospital Director

as Psychiatrist

as Neurochemist

as Man in Hall

as Hysterical Woman

as Fishsticks

as Hospital Receptionis...

as George, Security Gu...

as 1st Orderly

as Nurse Sara

as EEG Technician

as Cafeteria Nurse

as Orderly, 5th Ward

as Club Singer

as Bus Driver

as Librarian

as Young Leonard Lowe

as Leonard's Friend

as Leonard's Friend

as Patient, 5th Ward

as Patient, 5th Ward

as Patient, 5th Ward

as Patient, 5th Ward

as Patient, 5th Ward

as Patient, 5th Ward

as Patient, 5th Ward

as Head Ward Orderly
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Awakenings

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Critic Reviews for Awakenings

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (8)

Williams gives his best "straight" performance, shorn of all his marvelous manic vaudeville. The man he plays here is not a performer, which he was even in Dead Poets Society, but simply a man.

Full Review… | August 15, 2014
The New Republic
Top Critic

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

July 7, 2005
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

a curiously-underloved film... Awakenings will get a re-evaluation in the wake of Williams' passing, and that's great. It's just a tragedy it took a tragedy to precipitate it.

Full Review… | August 17, 2014

Maybe life affirming, but hardly life-changing.

Full Review… | January 15, 2012
Projection Booth

Nonfunny Robin Williams role in moving story.

Full Review… | December 22, 2010
Common Sense Media

Audience Reviews for Awakenings

Based on a true story, a doctor moves to a new institution where he examines and tries to cure schizophrenic patients who are very far gone. Once he comes across a patient that he feels connected to (Robert De Niro), he starts giving him extra doses of medicine until he is able to walk and speak normally once again. Many incredible things happen along the way and this film is elevated by a very down-to-earth performance by Robin Williams, and Robert De Niro gives one of the best performances of his career as the patient. This film is beautifully written and heartfelt to the bare bones in every way possible. Each character gives you something to be so thankful in life that you have. "Awakenings" is a very moving picture with powerful acting, great direction, and a theme that will have you in tears. One of my favourites, it is such an incredible film.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer


Touching...but not really moving. Well-acted.

Christian C

Super Reviewer

Awakening to the world after thirty years, lost youth, the incomprehensible loss of who you were in contrast to who you could be in the future, is a heavy subject matter. Luckily we have the extraordinary efforts of actors Robin Williams and Robert De Niro to encapsulate the spectrum of human behavioral science and emotion. The aspects of the film that make it true are for certain the most astounding, drawing on the experiences of neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, who worked with catatonic patients from the 1917-1928 encephalitis epidemic. What is really very disturbing about the film, is watching fictionalized Dr. Malcolm Sayer come to the conclusion that these patients are in fact only sedate, and have the mental faculties to make a full recovery. This is both good news for their future state, and devastatingly horrifying to think of their mental prison for the past thirty years, trying to communicate with the broader world but being limited by their own body. We watch the good doctor bring back Leonard Lowe (De Niro), a child at the time of his crisis, and now a full grown man with the faculties of an infant. His transformation is subdued, nothing overall astounding about his awakening, since no one seems able to witness them when they happen. He wakes from sleep, recognizes that he's back with the tender joy of a child, and remembers the death of his former state, but not the events of the past thirty years. As the other patients also awaken, and their journey begins, we're fed the horror of wasted life, the principle of the film to drive you into living when others cannot. The premise was executed in a fairly original way, the acting was sincere and realistic for the otherworldly circumstances that developed from it, and everything is believable and neither sappy nor unenjoyable. It's only the longwinded approach to certain sections that keeps me from enjoying it through and through, the lack of true depression at the very end, only the possibility for Sayer to finally live now that he's seen the worst of unused potential. It's too bittersweet a taste for me when I've gone through the rigmarole of this film.

Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

Awakenings Quotes

– Submitted by Chad E (4 years ago)

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