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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though this grim thriller stars teen favorites Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba, it isn't meant for kids. There are many scenes of bloody open-heart surgery, with some explicit sound effects (cutting, sawing, ribcage cracking). Because Clay is conscious and feels pain during the surgery, there are some gruesome parts in which he internally screams, swears, and makes noises; it's essentially grisly torture (not unlike what passes for plot in the Saw movies). There are several kissing scenes, two of which lead to sex (though more is implied than shown). Expect lots of prescription medication use, some smoking (and discussion of it being bad for you) and drinking, and many uses of both "f--k" and "s--t."
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What's the story?
At 22, successful Clay (Hayden Christensen) is touted as a brilliant, social-minded businessman who creates jobs, looks after properties, and is a good son to his doing mother, Lilith (Lena Olin). But as his best friend Jack (Terrence Howard) makes clear at the start of AWAKE, Clay is in trouble. One, he has a bad heart -- in fact, he needs a transplant. And, two, his surgeon is Jack, who starts the film by describing the pain he feels at losing Clay on the operating table. What happened? Despite the fact that his friend was facing four malpractice suits and Lilith disapproved, Clay was perversely determined to have Jack perform the surgery. And Lilith became even more upset when she learned that Clay had a secret girlfriend, Sam (Jessica Alba) -- with whom he has several bouts of lively sex during the movie, despite his much-remarked weakened "condition." But even with all these pressures weighing on him, Clay was upbeat as he was finally wheeled into the operating room, imagining that he'd wake up on the other side with a new life. Or not.
Is it any good?
The gimmicky premise of Awake is the fact that one in 700 patients experience what's called "anesthetic awareness" during surgery. They feel every cut, every rib crack, and every stitch during surgery, but are paralyzed and unable to communicate the agony. Ouch. But this pain, uncomfortable as it is, has nothing on the pain of the movie's increasingly convoluted and contrived plot.
First of all, Clay's unfortunate condition is discovered by an out-of-body version of himself, who proceeds to run around the hospital in scrubs (why is never explained, as he lies on the table in a hospital gown), yelling at various relatives and doctors in an effort to get them to see that he's "awake." What's more, there are so many betrayals by so many characters that it's hard to care much about what happens to them -- unless you worry about the careers of folks like Howard and Olin, who outclass this silly material in every imaginable way. By the time Lilith has to explain to Sam how she can "feel" something is wrong in the operating room ("He's not just my son: we grew up together"), you've got the feeling that something is indeed very wrong -- with this film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes a movie a thriller. Do you think this qualifies? Why? What characteristics do most thrillers have in common? Families can also discuss what -- if anything -- the characters in the movie learn. How would you describe the movie's version of morality? Are the characters' sacrifices worth it?