Adam Mars-Jones’s “Cinematically Challenged” collected in Blind Bitter Happiness is particularly caustic about the Penny Marshall film based on the book by Oliver Sacks, Awakenings. With steady tongs one can lift this bit out without danger to the overly sensitive reader. It is
Of this complex human being virtually nothing survives into the film, certainly not the twin enemies of sentimentalism, the intellect and the libido.
A few days later I am reading Oliver Sacks remembering his friend the poet Thom Gunn (Brick Winter 2005) and grow to understand that the respect for complexity present in the book and missing in the film comes from a lot of living and thinking. Sacks quotes from a letter from Gunn who is commenting on Awakenings
[…] And, frankly, I despaired of your ever becoming a good writer, because I didn’t see how one could be taught such a quality. . . . Your deficiency of sympathy made for a limitation of observation. . . . What I didn’t know is that the growth of sympathies is something frequently delayed until one’s thirties. What was deficient in these writings is now the supreme organizer of Awakenings, and wonderfully so. […] I wonder if you know what happened. Simply working with the patients over so long, or opening-up helped by acid, or really falling in love […]
Maybe there will be a remake of the film. Certainly the film has sent people to the book. Some of us are glad to be warned off. We might never reach for the book: sentimentalism induces slumber.
And so for day 185