Awakenings (1990)


This film was adapted from a book written by Dr. Oliver Sacks on his personal experience as a neurologist in a mental ward. The movie began with a scene that depicts how the life a promising young boy named Leonard Lowe who was afflicted by the encephalitis epidemic that slowly loses his ability to write and speak, and finally moving. After being in the catatonic state for almost 30 years, Leonard was the first person that was ‘awaken’ after being administered a drug called L-Dopa. Basic actions that seemed so impossible in the past such as speaking, walking, writing, or unbuttoning shirt has become possible for Leonard. While he was savoring his new life, Leonard also discovered his new love, Paula whom he met once awhile while she visits her father. Upon his full recovery, Leonard become frustrated about the restrictions imposed by the hospital administration and starts to demand more freedom to come and go as he pleases. Soon after, the effect of the drug started to deplete despite increased dosage. Leonard went back to his stupor condition, and never again awaken to his normal state like he once did.


Throughout this film, there is a portrayal different stages of needs based on the Maslow hierarchy of needs . 

Needs, according to the model is ranked based on different category of needs. Lower needs are the basic requirements for survival such as food, water and safety while higher needs are less tangible such as need for self-esteem, friendship, or love. Maslow suggests that the lower level need has to be satisfied before moving on to higher needs. Prior to Leonard’s trial run that lead to his full recovery, there is a need to be able to perform basic human functions such as moving. Without this ability, much survival tasks are unable to be accomplished such as eating, drinking, and speaking. Due the nature of encephalitic disease that lead to the catatonic and jittery movement, Leonard was unable to meet his basic needs and advance to higher stages of needs.

Soon after, as Leonard began to move and speak freely as the effect of the drugs start to kick-in, he was delighted and happy for each successive task that he accomplished. He began to take charge of his own grooming (hygiene), meals (hunger) to fulfill his physiological needs. Once these basic needs was satisfied, he progressed to attend his other needs such as the need to feel belonged and loved through building rapport with Dr. Malcom Sayer and also romantic relationship with Paula. Those relationships went well and the needs are satisfied. At one point, Leonard even made a momentous statement on how people were ungrateful and unhappy (as portrayed in our daily newspaper) but have forgotten how amazing and fascinating life is.

Yet like many people, his human nature to achieve higher needs such as freedom, soon take over his contentment. Leonard wanted to be free from the confinement of the ward and be able to come and go as he wants since he is already a healthy man. Leonard’s move to evoke a strike in the ward after which his request was denied, contradicts his earlier statement on being content with little things in life. However, this situation is understandable using the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, that one will continue to strive for higher needs when basic needs is already met.

Although it is arguable that there is a possibility that higher needs were not expressed at the earlier part of the movie simply because Leonard has yet to acknowledge such freedom, these demands slowly become secondary or unimportant as the effect of the drug started to deplete. While Leonard began to succumb into his original state with increasing muscle jolts, he asked Dr Sayer to film in hope that he would some contribute to the research on encephalitic patients. The need to understand and cure his disease to allow him to meet his basic needs again, has supersede his other needs.

This movie has showed that, we as human beings are always striving to meet our higher needs according to the Maslow hierarchy of needs, and these needs changes by either moving upwards or downwards, depending on weather our basic or lower needs are met. Our basic needs has allow us to strive and demand for higher needs, and without them, these demands are not possible. Hence, while we’re busy to strive for  higher goals in life , we should remember to look back and be content of we already have, even the smallest things in life that we could taken for granted (i.e. the fact that we can move to meet our physical need). Once awhile, I should remember to count backwards!

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