Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Once a year, my Gospels classes watch a movie to break our routine and stay out of a rut. I pick films which have a relationship to the way Jesus viewed humanity. Over the next few days, we watched Awakenings, and tomorrow we will take a discussion test over the film. The following, from 4-22-07, explains why.
Washington Irving called him Rip Van Winkle but he has different names in Jewish, German, and Chinese fairy tales. Most know the basics; a man falls asleep and wakes up years later finding the world became unfamiliar in his absence. But what if it really happened? It did. In the 1990 movie Awakenings, based on Oliver Sacks' book of the same title, the story of fifteen patients who went into trances for decades is told. The film depicts the summer of 1969 in the Brooklyn hospital where Sacks, a neurologist played by Robin Williams, tried to pull the men and women out of their catatonic states. All had suffered from encephalitis in the early 1920's and had slipped into their vegetative states. The doctors, nurses, and staff at the facility ignored them, simply feeding and taking them out of bed daily. Sacks noticed that they had reflex abilities when tennis balls were tossed at them and began trying to stimulate their minds by reading aloud and playing music in their presence. The doctor, in researching the use of a chemical called L-dopa on Parkinson's victims, surmised it might be effective on these trance patients. Persuading the head of the hospital to try it on one patient, Sacks focuses on Leonard, played brilliantly by Robert DeNiro. Using massive dosages, Leonard comes out of his catatonic trance after thirty years. Encouraged by that one success, Sacks is allowed to put all fifteen on the medication, and like Leonard, all come to life after years of hibernation. You would hope for a happy-ever-after ending but elation quickly was supplanted by harsh realities. Young people when they fell asleep, the patients woke to find their parents dead, their spouses had divorced them, and they had grown much older if not old. Leonard was eleven when he became ill and forty-one when he returned. His mother, who visited him daily in the hospital during his three decade absence, discovered she liked him better comatose, or at least as he had been as an eleven year old. Being experimental meant having no idea of the long-term effectiveness of the L-dopa. After several months, the fifteen began regressing and slipped back into the land between the living and the dead. The clock struck midnight and Cinderella's coach turned back into a pumpkin.
I showed Awakenings to my sophomore classes this past week. Concluding, I asked if it had been worth it to wake up the patients after so long away from the rest of the world. It was an even split. Some thought the pain of slipping back to where they came from overrode the brief encounter with the conscious population. Others believed it a blessing, taking the position that at least for a short while, the fifteen were allowed to live again. The point I tried to get them to see was how only person tried to help the ones the medical community had abandoned....but one was all it took. Jesus did that. The morally bankrupt, those whose bodies didn't work, the ones haunted by spirits sent by Satan: they were not beyond the scope of Jesus' caring. And like those who came back from dormancy in the movie, I would guess some slipped back into their old life. Jesus on several occasions warned those who just felt his loving touch to beware of the dangers of their previous life of sin. The Parable of the Sower forecasts that some would not remain in the faith after hearing the word of God. Still, the Savior never hesitated to bless those who might turn their backs on him or those who seemed ungrateful for his healing. I asked my students if everybody was happy at the end of Cinderella- they said yes. I countered with my belief that the ugly step-sisters weren't thrilled. It's up to us to show the love of Jesus to those who no one else wants to love or can stand to love. Not everyone will respond and some might disappoint but that isn't up to us. We are surrounded by emotionally dead folks who might just need the touch of one act of kindness. L-dopa was effective in the short term. The love of God has the shelf life of eternity. It just has to be prescribed.
Applicable quote of the day:
"It is only possible to live happily-ever-after on a day-to-day basis."
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Posted by Steve Hawley at 7:49 PM