Throughout the film Awakenings, filmmaker Penny Marshall demonstrates the progression of Dr. Malcolm Sayer??™s perspective of life, as he awakens the patients of Bainbridge hospital. Dr. Sayer, a man who to merely go through the motions of life, does not actually live it. He masks his worries and fears with science, as long as it is predictable and safe. The irony in the movie is strong, although it appears that Dr. Sayer is awake and Leonard is asleep, it is really the other way around, Leonard just never had the chance to express being awake. Viktor Frankl says that ???Those who have a ???why??™ to live, can bear with almost any ???how??™???. Dr. Sayer does not seem to have a ???why??™ to live, but patients like Leonard have a 1000 ???whys??™ and would be satisfied with absolutely any ???how??™.
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Dr. Malcolm Sayer is finding it difficult to adapt to his new work environment, due to the unpredictable conditions of the patients, which he is immensely uncomfortable with. Even Dr. Sayer is well aware of his discomfort around people as he explains to Leonard that ???Maybe if people were less unpredictable??? he would be better around them. He would much rather work away at another ridiculous science experiment that is safe and controlled, such as his absurd earthworm project. After Dr. Kaufman exclaimed, ???it can??™t be done??? Dr. Sayer stated ???I know that now, I proved it???. Whether the project could be accomplished or not, it is safe, which is ideal for a man such as Dr. Sayer. Dr. Sayer demonstrates his love for the security of science as he explains the table of periodic elements to Leonard, ???- every element has its place in that order, you can??™t change that. They??™re secure, no matter what???.
Penny Marshall captures the image of Dr. Sayer throughout the film impeccably. Her uses of visual symbols are incredible. At the beginning of the film we can see that Dr. Sayer is a man hiding from the world when a golden retriever is at his doorstep, Dr. Sayer is frightened by the friendliest breed of dog. One of the most significant symbols is Dr. Sayer??™s glasses. When he is running towards the room of patients he asks, ???Where are my glasses??? and Eleanor replies ???They??™re on your face??? it becomes apparent that Dr. Sayer does not really need his glasses, they are simply one more thing to help him to hide from the world. Another symbol that was of importance are the bars that Dr. Sayer had to unlock every time he wanted a breath of fresh air. A commodity everywhere else in the world, was trapped on the other side of bars in the mental hospital; this establishes how even Dr. Sayer was a prisoner in the hospital.
Leonard Lowe awakens for the first time, and it is an entirely different world. People are sceptical about how Leonard might react, especially Nurse Costello when she remarks, ??? I don??™t think I could deal with losing thirty years of my life, could you I can??™t even imagine it???. However Leonard handles his awakening quite well. He is a strong reminder to everyone what it means to be alive and well, this is demonstrated when he exclaims ???People have forgotten what life is all about??¦The gift of life. The freedom of life. The wonderment of life.??? As Dr. Sayer is helping Leonard to make a smooth transition, from sitting in a wheelchair for 30 years to living as a person, he cannot help but make a similar transition into life.
When Leonard asks for the freedom to go on a walk and is denied of it, he starts to unravel. It is as though he is being treated a prisoner, he has no freedom, and not many rights. He seems to get scared and starts to become very angry with the doctors who denied him his freedom, he speaks to all the other patients so they are aware of how he had been wronged, ??? And that problem isn??™t us??¦.It??™s them, they??™re the problem???. When Dr. Sayer said, ??? We wake him up and then we lock him up in a cage. That??™s not paranoia; that??™s a fact???, he does not necessarily disagree with Leonard??™s accusations. Dr. Sayer begins to learn the values of life from Leonard in a rather discordant manner when Leonard lashes out on him, ???You have no excuse. You??™re just a scared little, lonely man with nothing. No life. Nothing! You??™re the one that??™s asleep!???.
Despite the miracles of the awakenings, Leonard??™s symptoms return, and eventually he falls back into his coma state completely, followed by the rest of the patients. Although Leonard??™s physical awakening is not permanent, the effect that it had on Dr. Sayer is. Dr. Sayer had one of the most valuable life lessons he could ever wish for. He no longer hides behind the safety of science, and he begins to live. He proves this to everyone when he recaps the summer, ???We can hide behind the veil of Science??¦.But the reality is, we don??™t know what went wrong anymore than we know what went right??¦..The human spirit needs to be nourished with work, play, friendship, family. The things that matter. What we??™ve forgotten. The simplest things??? His first act as a changed man is when he runs after Nurse Costello, leaving his glasses behind, and asks ??? I was wondering if you??¦we??¦well, you and I, if??¦we could go for a cup of coffee??¦what do you say we just??¦. walk???. Taking advantage of his life, Dr. Sayer could not have asked for a greater gift than what Leonard gave him.
Chances are that most people are forgetting about all the things that Leonard loved the most, the simplest things, which are taken for granted every day. It should not always take a miracle or a tragedy for these things to become apparent, all that is required is thought. The people who say that it is the little things that matter are some of the smartest people in the world. It is guaranteed that for the rest of Dr. Sayer??™s life, he will appreciate every minute of the day, and all the small things that he has the ability to do. Now he is not just existing, he is living.
???Life is either a daring adventure or nothing??? ??“ Helen Keller