Surgeries happen every day,
Routine and clean, so doctors say.
You simply go to sleep and then
They ought to wake you up again.
What’s that? You’ve heard, through some mistake,
That sometimes people never wake?
That’s possible, but don’t dismay;
It’s very rare, so doctors say.
You need not worry of a coma;
Trust the doc and his diploma.
Never fear about foul play
That can’t occur, so doctors say.
Statistics prove how safe you are;
The surgeon’s been ideal so far.
He’ll deftly take the pain away,
And you’ll be fine, so doctors say.

Michael Crichton’s second film, after Westworld, was this adaptation of Robin Cook’s novel, about (you guessed it!) comas. More specifically, it concerns the investigations of young medical resident Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold), who notices suspicious similarities among routine surgeries which result in unexplained brain deaths.

I had never even heard of this film before my VC recommended it, but it was actually quite entertaining, a mystery/thriller that keeps viewers guessing with its overriding paranoia. It starts off a bit rocky with a lover’s quarrel between Drs. Wheeler and Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas), which escalates quickly with too little characterization as yet for us to know with whom we should sympathize. Add to this a slightly disturbing early scene involving a “routine” abortion, and I was dubious about whether the rest of the film would improve. It did. As Susan proceeds from apparently overthinking these cases to uncovering genuinely suspect evidence of foul play, the danger grows more and more real, with shady voyeurs and ruthless conspiracies. A couple scenes may seem like science fiction, but the film is even more frightening for the fact that its core concept is chillingly plausible. The reveals are best left for actually watching the film (don’t even see the spoiler-ific trailer), since it’s a glued-to-the-screen experience from the midpoint on.

I can’t say I’ve seen any of Bujold’s films, so I was interested to see the actress who was almost Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. To be honest, I prefer Kate Mulgrew, but Bujold could have pulled it off. She deftly carries the bulk of the film, first with some women’s lib independence, then with an increasingly paranoid race for the truth and survival. Richard Widmark, Rip Torn, and Michael Douglas also provide commendable performances, even though I’ll always see the latter as either Jack Colton from Romancing the Stone or Gordon Gekko from Wall Street. The most surprising appearances are the film debuts of not only Ed Harris, but also an ill-fated Tom Selleck.

Now that I’ve seen the original film, I should also check out the A&E miniseries remake from 2012, if only for comparison. I doubt it could match this film’s burgeoning tension, but you never know. Thanks to my VC, Coma is yet another nearly forgotten film of the ‘70s to add to my list.

Best line: (a nurse) “Doctors make the worst patients. They know too much.”

Rank: List-Worthy

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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