Awakenings is a 1990 American drama film based on Oliver Sacks' 1973 memoir of the same title. It tells the true story of British neurologist Oliver Sacks, fictionalized as American Malcolm Sayer (portrayed by Robin Williams), who, in 1969, discovered beneficial effects of the drug L-Dopa. He administered it to catatonic patients who survived the 1917–28 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica. Leonard Lowe (played by Robert De Niro) and the rest of the patients were awakened after decades of catatonia and have to deal with a new life in a new time. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards.
Directed by Penny Marshall, the film was produced by Walter Parkes and Lawrence Lasker, who first encountered Sacks's book as undergraduates at Yale University and optioned it a few years later. Awakenings stars Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, Julie Kavner, Ruth Nelson, John Heard, Penelope Ann Miller, and Max Von Sydow. The film features a non-speaking cameo from jazz legend Dexter Gordon (who died before the film's release) and then-unknowns Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, and Vincent Pastore play a doctor, neurochemist, and psych-ward patient, respectively. Also, a then-unknown Vin Diesel was in the film playing a psych-ward orderly, but he was uncredited.