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Inexperience and Inconsistencies Run Wide in Awake

  • Annabelle Robertson Contributing Writer
  • Updated Mar 07, 2008
Inexperience and Inconsistencies Run Wide in <i>Awake</i>

DVD Release Date:  March 4, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  November 30, 2007
Rating:  R (for language, an intense disturbing situation and brief drug use)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  84 min.
Director:  Joby Harold
Actors:  Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Lena Olin, Arliss Howard, Fisher Stevens and Terrence Howard

Clay Berresford, Jr. (Hayden Christensen) may be only 22, but he owns a substantial chunk of New York City and was just named Barron’s “Man of the Year.”  He has a deadly heart condition and is secretly dating his mother’s personal assistant, Samantha (Jessica Alba).  Clay is on the waiting list for a transplant, but has the rare O-blood type.

When Clay tells his mother (Lena Olin) about the relationship with Sam, she forces him to choose.  He goes off and marries Sam that same night, after which he learns that a heart is finally available.  Clay immediately goes into the hospital under the care of his best friend/surgeon (Terrence Howard), despite strident objections from his mother.  Not only has this doctor been sued four times for malpractice, but Clay’s mother has the country’s leading cardiologist ready and waiting to operate on him.  Clay politely declines.

During the operation—which takes up the majority of the film—the anesthesia fails to work, leaving Clay fully aware of the pain yet unable to scream or move.  The condition is called “anesthetic awareness” and, according to the film’s opening lines, affects some 30,000 people per year.

Clay survives the unthinkable pain of open heart surgery by contemplating his new wife and other happy thoughts, but it is still excruciating.  Soon, however, he realizes that something far more sinister is afoot when he overhears a conversation about a plot to end his life.  In fact, they’re about to kill him now.

This film is writer/director Joby Harold’s first effort, and unfortunately his inexperience bleeds through.  The plot is rife with inconsistencies and makes so many mistakes that few will find it credible.  The major New York City hospital where the operation takes place, for example, is deserted.  People constantly enter and exit the operating room without scrubbing up, compromising the sterile field.  Clay is in pain for the first part of his surgery but doesn’t seem to mind the second part.  And on and on.

And then there’s the ending—oh, the ending.  But I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.  Just think “daytime soaps from the ’70s,” with better cinematography (especially the bathroom love scene).

The dialogue is bare bones and filled with clichés like “The players may have changed everyone, but the game remains the same.”  Harold fails to deal with any of the real issues surrounding Clay’s surgery, making it a flimsy plot device.  He uses flashbacks to get his protagonist out of the O.R., although most of the action still takes place on the table, creating a pacing problem.  Even when Clay gets up and is out of his body, however, he still doesn’t learn anything that we didn’t already know. 

The film does have one redeeming quality, and it’s an act of such noble sacrifice that it can only be called Christlike.  Unfortunately, even this event lacks credibility.  Suffice to say that the film does not “do for operations what Jaws did for the beach,” as the DVD jacket claims, per one critic.  It is, however, enough to concern future surgery patients.  Thankfully, the 30,000 anesthetic awareness cases are not like this one. 

According to, most anesthetic awareness problems involve only a fleeting sense of awareness where the patient may or may not feel pain.  Often, it’s more like a sense of pressure, and it only lasts a few seconds.  There have been incidents like the one in the film, however.  In 1990, a patient by the name of Jeanette Liska was forced to endure two hours of searing pain and awareness, which she described in her book, Silenced Screams, Surviving Anesthetic Awareness During Surgery:  A True-life Account.  Liska, who holds a doctorate of divinity and a doctorate of pastoral psychology, has since dedicated her life to awareness about this issue and is the founder and president of AWARE (Awareness with Anesthesia Research Education).

In the film, Christiansen (Jumper) offers his usual sleepwalking performance, punctuated by an occasional pubescent scream.  Alba (The Eye) matches him step for step.  She’s very attractive window dressing, however.  Neither looks old enough to drive, much less be wheeling and dealing with Japanese business moguls, so even the actors compromise the film’s integrity.

Olin (TV’s Alias) and Howard (August Rush) provide a modicum of relief, but nothing is enough to save this film from being pronounced D.O.A.  Fortunately, at just 84 minutes, it’s a quick death.


  • Feature commentary with writer/director Joby Harold
  • Outtakes and bloopers
  • Theatrical Trailer


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Characters smoke and take an occasional drink.
  • Language/Profanity:  Profanities and obscenities throughout film, some strong.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Young, unmarried couple kisses and makes love in several scenes (no nudity).
  • Violence:  Intense trauma related to anesthetic awareness, in which patient feels the pain of surgery but cannot communicate that he is awake; a woman hits a man; a man falls over a balcony and dies.