• Eirik Knutsvik

Awakenings (1990) | Film Opinion & Scene Analysis


I honestly feel shame that I didn't know this film existed until I spotted a random Tweet saying Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams was the best film he'd ever seen.

"Williams and De Niro worked together?" I thought. "What the fuck have I missed?!"


So I spent a Starbuck Coffee's worth on Google Play and watched the film after midnight last Sunday... and man was it a good film!


In a world with a thousand Marvel films, where every scene is packed with at least 50% bullet-penetrating action, it's a wonderful experience to watch a movie that spends its first 5 minutes with little dialogue - only childhood activities. Activities that'll make you feel for the same - but adult - character you meet later in the film.


On the 5 minute mark, the point of view switches to Dr. Sayer (Robin Williams) doing an interview for a job he's not qualified for. Instead of watching the trailer, take a look at this scene:


I'm not going to review the film - there are already a thousand people doing that out there. But I'll do my best to analyse this scene for you to give you an idea of how complex this film and its characters are

  • Dr. Sayer drives up to the hospital mid-day, dressed in suit, looking nervous. Immediately we're introduced to his character being human, in two minds of what to do: Go for the interview, or head back home to the comfort zone.

  • He goes for it! But nearly forgets his CV in the car. Tiny, but important character detail. Also, the hospital building is an intimidating sight. Tall, almost mischievous.

  • The first person he meets is an unwelcoming security guard. That may seem random, but nope - it's an another element for the character to overcome. He's anxious as it is, and now he's done one mistake = asking the wrong person.

  • Politely, Dr. Sayer walks to the receptionist. Make note of the character here: He says "Thank you". Imagine how this scene would be if that - or a thankful nod - was left out. You'd immediately think differently about the character.

  • The reception room is packed, and Dr. Sayer is not looking comfortable at all. In fact, he's clenching his papers to his chest. We actors think over these things when we do a scene. Imagine if he held the documents hip-levelled, crossing the room in a straight posture, his head held high. You'd think of him as a confident person, maybe even a leader. One who would ace this job interview. Dr. Sayer is the opposite of that.

  • Receptionist is busy on the phone. He waits for her to give him attention instead of demanding it. Another trait right there.

  • She's confident, and busy. Her question stabs Dr. Sayer like a sword. This is his second rejection upon entering the building.

  • As he's going for the only free seat, another guy takes it before him. Dr. Sayer accepts it. Now he has to stand, yet again making him uncomfortable in this new environment. The writer is punishing the character on purpose: he's the only one standing in a room of sitting people. It's that classic "people are sheep" scenario, where we want to do the same as other people. If they sit, we'd like to sit. If they stand, we'd like to stand. Or else its uncomfortable.

  • BAM, we're at the interview. "When you say people, you mean living people?" This one line confirms every nuance that has caused you to believe this guy is not a socially skilled person. And now he's up for a role he didn't expect - another obstacle for his character. He needs the money, he needs a job... but it's a field that's way outside his comfort zone.

  • The Good Cop / Bad Cop works well here, too. How the senior man just wants to fill the position, not caring about Dr. Sayer's experience, whilst the other clearly dislikes Sayer from the first moment. Notice the little "A doctor doctor" moment. Every person with a doctorate degree will feel that line.

  • Earthworms... Yes, he's a fascinating guy... Hoping to "extract 1 decigram of myelin from 4 tons of earthworms". Five years he spent on this. In a way, they're introducing his determination with those lines. That no matter what people say he can't do, he will spend his every living breath proving he can do it. Of course, this is passed off as a ridiculous personality trait at this point of the story, but it's essential for his character later in the film.

  • Overall, the rejection is obvious to him, and before hearing the words, he offers to leave the room. Yet somehow, he's offered the role anyway. There starts your film.

There you have it - my analysis of one scene that last 3 minutes in the film. Now imagine what the rest of the film may be like.


Bottom line is:

If you want to watch a film where you'll feel amazed one second, cry the second, then back to happy on the third, Awakenings is the film for you. It's an amazing story - based on a real one - where every scene feels authentic. Every moment is treasured. Every character has a purpose. It's a collection of emotions played to you in a matter of two hours, and you can be damn sure I'll be drawing inspiration from this film on whatever I work on next as an actor or writer.


Seriously, watch it!


Oh, and if you watch the trailer, don't watch more than 1 minute. Hollywood has a sick tendency to put spoilers in anything more than 1 minute long.


Where to buy/rent:

Google Play: £2.49 to Rent | £6.99 to Buy

YouTube: £2.49 - 3.49 to Rent | 6.99 to Buy


Thumbs up!


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