Awake DVD review

Matt finds himself more drawn to Awake then he was expecting to be...

Awake: just

Awake begins with some pretty terrifying facts, which are worth repeating here. Every year, over twenty million people receive anesthesia, the vast majority drifting into perfect sleep and remembering nothing. However, thirty thousand people will usually experience what is imaginatively called “Anesthesia Awareness,” whereby the individual is completely paralysed and cannot scream for help.

The film opens with a short monologue from Doctor Jack (Terrence Howard), who is later to perform heart surgery on a young man, a man who dies on the operating table. Rather than ruining the surprise of what happens, this knowledge adds poignancy to the following scenes, and actually isn’t as much of a spoiler as you’d at first believe.

The man in need of the heart transplant is Clayton (Hayden Christensen), a dashing 22-year-old who has inherited all of his deceased father’s wealth, owns half of New York, and is engaged to Sam (Jessica Alba). The first chunk of the film details how Clayton is keeping this engagement from his mother, fearing she will not take the news so well, with Sam feeling rejected and pushing for their love to be declared. His mother, as it happens, does not welcome the news, sparking Clayton to propose to his fiance on a whim. All of this may sound inconsequential, but actually holds great importance for what is to follow.

Once on the operating table and under anesthetic, the film plunges into its main story. When it comes to plot twists, I’m not a very big fan if the twist has been spelled out in black and white for the last sixty minutes (hello, Reeker). If however, the twist is completely unexpected, as in this film, and – just off the top of my head – The Skeleton Key – then it can work wonders. For during the operation, Clayton has an out of body experience, discovers some deeply disturbing facts, and the whole film gets turned on its head. The signs were there, however they were played in such a cleverly subtle way that I genuinely did not see it coming.

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To spoil what happens would be to rob Awake of its only selling point, really. The concept – that some people are aware they are being operated on and have to suffer unendurable agony in complete silence – is a powerful one, but very short-lived. Some sort of plot twist had to be on the cards, really, otherwise what turns out to be your typical ninety minute film could easily have been squashed down into a half hour documentary on Sunday evening BBC. Aside from the gruesome situation, Awake is, at heart, a pretty standard family drama. We have the over-protective mother, the repressed memories the protagonist must face in order to move on, and other such cliched devices.

For the most part, Christensen plays his character well, if not entirely convincingly at all times. Alba plays the typical star-struck, too-cute-for-her-own-good girlfriend, and while its not unbelievable that two very good looking people would fall in love and marry, their relationship is as clean, sparkly and perfect as porcelain, and that never quite rings true of relationships. Lena Olin as Clayton’s mother looks like a cross between a stressed out Sigourney Weaver and the Predator, and is slightly horrific all round.

While the unfolding story did manage to draw me in and hold my attention, shocking me with a few surprises here and there, the way things eventually pan out seems slightly over-the-top. The world is filled with some very cruel, twisted people, to be sure, but what the antagonists do in this film just speaks of personalities so devoid of any human emotion whatsoever as to make them robots. I can’t decide whether this is completely unrealistic, or a horribly accurate portrayal of what some people would do for the sake of lining their pockets. I’ll let you decide.


2 stars


3 stars


2 out of 5