First, you have to read about anesthesia awareness because that is where the story revolves around.
‘Awake’, starring Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba and Terrence Howard, opens with a doctor (Howard) thinking about the patient that he lost. The patient is 22-year-old Wall Street wiz kid Clay (Christensen) who had been in line for a compatible heart donor for a year. Without his mother’s knowledge, he marries his fiancee of six months (Alba) the night before he goes into surgery. And, against his mother’s wishes, he chooses a surgeon-friend, Jack (Howard), over the big-time specialist hand-picked by his mother.
Thirty minutes into the movie and you’d think it is another one of those evil-mother-hates-poor-girl story. You know, stuff that melodramas are made off. Rich boy falls in love with a poor working-class girl and the mother does everything to break them apart just as she tries to control every aspect of the life of her beloved son. But, as the movie unravels, it twists and turns and the drama turns into a mystery and a thriller.
So, Clay (Christensen) goes into surgery. But he is one of those unlucky few who don’t fall asleep after anesthesia is administered. He is paralyzed, all right, can’t speak, can’t move but his mind is fully aware. He can hear the conversations inside the operating room and, worse, he can feel the procedure being performed on him. He feels the scalpel go in, he feels his ribs opened… The scene made sit up, literally, with my eyes wide. But that’s not the substance of the story.
Because Clay can hear what the doctors are saying, he starts to get confused about bits and pieces that he hars about the irregularity committed by the doctors to get a heart for him. Then, there are arguments when the assigned anesthesiologist does not show up. The real plot starts to unfold when the substitute anesthesiologist is sent out of the operating room leaving the members of the “original” team with Clay. That was when Jack starts mumbling about not wanting to go through with it.
In the waiting room, a different drama is taking place. Clay’s new wife, Sam, is trying to win over his mother (Lena Olin). When Sam asks some doctors if they knew the status of the surgery, the substitute anesthesiologist who overheard them replies that things are fine. Sam is surprised because, according to her, this substitute anesthesiologist does not even work in that hospital.
The action rises. Sam goes into the operating room and it becomes clear that not only does she know Jack, she knows him very well just as she knows the rest of his team. Clay was never supposed to survive the surgery. Clay was supposed to die so that Sam could inherit his millions. And, as part of the team that planned whole thing, the others are supposed to get their share to ease their own financial burdens. Before Sam leaves the operating room, she made sure that the new heart was injected with some substance that would destroy it. She then goes back to the waiting room.
When Jack informs her and Clay’s mother that Clay rejected the new heart, she gracefully falls on her chair and acts very much the bereaved widow. Then, the substitute anesthesiologist tells Clay’s mother that they need consent to take him off the machine. Clay is medically alive albeit without a heart.
I’ll end the spoilers there. You’ll have to see the movie to find out how it ends. Believe me, the ending is unnerving and victorious at the same time. Great, great movie.