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This is a movie with heart. In fact, it has several.
That's because Clay Beresford, a fabulously wealthy twentysomething tycoon, has a faulty ticker. He's got to get it replaced. But you can't just buy these things on eBay—at least not yet—and doctors tell him that suitable hearts are tricky to come by.
Still, he's losing less sleep over that predicament than he is over the problematic women in his life. First, there's his controlling mother, who loves her son with an almost creepy vehemence. Then there's his beautifully sweet fiancée—and his mother's personal assistant—Sam, whom Clay sees on the sly because he doesn't think his mom would approve of their relationship. Clay's going to stand up to his mother ... one of these days. But Sam wants to stop all this sneaking around sooner rather than later and get rich—I mean, hitched.
"I deserve my happily-ever-after, too, Clay," she says.
Finally, one rainy evening, the ever-obliging Clay decides enough is enough. He tells his mom about the relationship, makes an honest woman of Sam and then, just as they're embarking on their first church-sanctioned roll in the hay, an electronic pager notifies him that a new heart—his new heart—is on its way.
It's a red-letter day for Clay, and he has ever-so-much confidence he'll make it to the credits alive, because his best friend is also the surgeon who's going to be working on him. Clay assumes he'll just take a four-hour, drug-induced nap on the operating table and wake up with a new heart, a new wife and a big new scar sure to wow the boys at the board meetings. What could be better?
But for some reason, the anesthesia isn't working right. He can't move, but he can hear and, more disturbingly, feel everything: the razor shaving his chest; the cold, antiseptic sponge; the scalpel.
If that wasn't bad enough, he learns that the doctors—including his best friend—want him dead. And they're in a pretty good position to do something about it.
They say blood is thicker than water, and this movie seems to want to prove it—particularly if it's O negative. Turns out, Clay's mom—while a little clingy—really just wants what's best for her son. And she's willing to do anything for him, including making the ultimate sacrifice. (But there's more to that story, and it can't be told underneath a header that reads, "Positive Elements"—so I'll come back to it later.)
Clay is largely a stand-up guy. He cares for his mom, loves his best girl and is loyal to his friends to a fault—in this case, a very literal fault. Awake seems to laud Clay's loyalty and honor on one hand, but that makes us feel his sense of betrayal all the more when the folks he trusted turn out to be less than, um, trustworthy.
Sam tells Clay to quit smoking. And Sam and Clay give money to a down-on-his-luck vagrant in the subway.
Clay and his mother, Lilith, throw a lavish Halloween party, and Lilith dresses up as a nun. Clay and Sam get married in a beautiful stone church in the middle of the night, the ceremony presided over by a pastor who owed Clay's best man (and soon-to-be surgeon) a favor.
The drugs the anesthesiologist gives to Clay right before surgery cause Clay to say, with feeling, "Oh, my, god!" "Yeah, that's Him all right," the anesthesiologist answers. Some characters, either dead or on the brink of death, walk through settings familiar to them, like ghosts. And they chat with one another in soft, yellow light. Whether the afterlife, in the film's morality, just consists of a handful of familiar rooms is never really addressed.
Clay is taking a bath as the film opens, holding his breath underwater. Sam interrupts him, wonders aloud what he was thinking about down there, and then surmises he must've been "thinking of making love to me all morning and then taking me out for a really big breakfast." Clay tells her that he was just wondering what she'd look like with her clothes dripping wet and promptly pulls her in. They engage in much passionate kissing, Sam straddling Clay in the bath. Later, the two brush their teeth while nude. (They're shown from behind and the waist up with possibly some mirrored reflections from a few other angles.) In flashback mode, we again see Sam's bare back and part of her side.
Once the two are married, Clay and Sam return to Sam's place and start stripping off each other's clothes, with Clay writhing around on top of his new wife.
In the early going, Awake does its best to wink at the idea that there's something vaguely incestuous about Lilith and Clay's relationship. Among other things, the costume party recalls a critical scene from 1962's The Manchurian Candidate, which featured an inappropriate lip-lock between the film's mom and son.
In any R-rated thriller that largely takes place inside an operating room, audiences are almost guaranteed to see some serious surgical gore. And so it is here.
We queasily watch as doctors slice open Clay's chest with a scalpel, then saw through his rib cage with some sort of rotary device one might seemingly buy at Home Depot. They insert another gizmo that spreads the ribs apart—and one of them snaps.
"That's going to hurt in the morning," an M.D. quips.
Only thing is, Clay's hurting right now: He's still fully conscious, though apparently paralyzed, and he feels every slice, snip and saw. We watch as doctors remove one slimy heart, stitch in another, and even slap in a third. We're "treated" to the sight of Clay—in the midst of an out-of-body experience—grasp at his own gaping chest. And we see him then sit up and spew clear liquid out of his mouth.
[Spoiler Warning] Outside the OR, in flashback mode, we see from a distance Clay's father slap Lilith across the face, and then watch as he moves menacingly toward Clay. Lilith warns him to leave Clay alone and, when he doesn't stop, she apparently whacks him on the back of the head with something long and metal. Clay's father puts his hand to the back of his neck, feels blood, and then tumbles from a nearby staircase to the floor below. (He's dead, but we don't see the impact.)
One evildoer, when captured, has her face pressed into the floor by police as they handcuff her.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters utter nearly 30 f-words and another 15-plus s-words. They also misuse God's name about a dozen times, a few times mixing it with "d--n." Jesus' name is abused at least another 10 times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Both Clay and his mother smoke. We see Lilith puffing on the occasional cigarette. And Sam takes a cigarette away from Clay. Several guests carry around drinks during the Halloween party. Clay's anesthesiologist takes a swig from a metal flask while talking on the phone. From a distance, we see Clay's father snorting cocaine.
Sam puts a couple of pills—apparently heart medication—into Clay's mouth, and doctors give him drugs via IV before the operation.
Other Negative Elements
Doctors and nurses display a frightening disregard of the Hippocratic oath.
[Spoiler Warning] Remember Lilith's "ultimate sacrifice"? Well, it comes in the form of her committing suicide.
According to Awake, about 30,000 people a year experience what experts call "anesthetic awareness." It's what happens, supposedly, when a person is unable to move, but is aware and awake. Though the jury's still out on whether victims feel pain, The Anesthesia Awareness Campaign reports that half of them experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Anesthesiologists, for their part, say these figures are outrageously inflated: After asking more than 200,000 people whether they had any recollection of their operations, only six said they did—one per every 14,560 procedures.
No matter. The "event" is just a gimmick to set up a reasonably clever, pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you thriller—a film that has, for the record, more in common with a jigsaw puzzle than Jigsaw, that evil mastermind who headlines the torture-porn Saw films.
But take note: Awake is an R-rated puzzle, sporting lots of really slimy internal organs and language that could've easily been surgically removed. That leads me to conclude that absolutely nothing, not even a modest sense of decorum, was to be allowed to get in the way of the film's primary purpose. Which is? To scare the wits out of anyone who needs (or might ever need) major surgery.
Like surgery isn't scary enough.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Hayden Christensen as Clay Beresford; Jessica Alba as Sam; Terrence Howard as Dr. Jack Harper; Lena Olin as Lilith Beresford
Joby Harold ( )