Awakenings Movie Poster Image




Robin Williams plays it serious in moving true story.
  • Review Date: May 20, 2003
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1990
  • Running Time: 121 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Theme of respecting the humanity of those who are different.


Sad, but not scary.

Not applicable

A few expletives.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a moving story and may be tough on sensitive viewers.

What's the story?

Shy neurologist Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams) is assigned to work with a group of catatonic patients who, ever since an epidemic of encephalitis ("sleeping sickness") decades before, have not spoken or appeared to understand anything that was going on around them. Everyone else has given up hope, but Sayer notices they have reflex reactions and believes that new medication for Parkinson's disease may help. His superiors object, but he gets permission to try it on one patient, Leonard Lowe (Robert De Niro). At first, there is no reaction, but soon Leonard "awakens." His transformation is so thrilling that Malcolm is easily able to get permission and funding to treat the other patients, and the results are amazing. But eventually, Leonard becomes hyperactive, angry, and ridden with tics. The medication's side effects begin to overwhelm him. Malcolm sees that he is losing Leonard, and the other patients know that it must soon happen to them, too.

Is it any good?


Directed by Penny Marshall, Awakenings is a powerful and moving story, brilliantly acted and directed. The movie is based on the book of the same name by neurologist Oliver Sacks, who was the basis for the character Malcolm Sayer. Like Malcolm, we can all use a reminder to appreciate the pleasures of being alive, including the pleasures that require us to take risks.

Teens will enjoy reading the Sacks book, and some of his others, especially The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, with astonishing and compassionate descriptions of some of his neurology patients.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what they think the neurologist means when he says, "because the implications of that would be unthinkable?" Why would he prefer to believe that the patients are not aware of what is going on? Were you surprised by the way any of the patients reacted to being "awakened?" Which reaction was most like the way you think you might feel? Why is it hard for Malcolm to interact with other people? How does Leonard change the way Malcolm behaves? Why does the staff treat the patients differently after the awakening, even when they go back the way they were?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 17, 1990
DVD release date:September 10, 1997
Cast:Julie Kavner, Robert De Niro, Robin Williams
Director:Penny Marshall
Studio:Columbia Tristar
Run time:121 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13

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Adult Written byAshnak April 9, 2008

Good Psychological Medical Drama

Adult Written byPickledPython April 9, 2008


I have viewed this film twice; once several years ago, and again a few days ago. It is a very touching movie with incredible acting.
Kid, 11 years old January 8, 2010
so emotional a guy in my class cried when they saw leonard's mom saw him awaken. love it
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Great messages


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