Opening yourself up, allowing yourself to be loved and therefore loving others are the driving themes in the second week of my Robin Williams Retrospective. In two films with similar roles, similar themes, but different tones and styles, Awakenings and Flubber are two films that may not share much in common, but really are two staple films in the Robin Williams Comfort Cinematic Universe, both for similar and different and unique reasons.
Awakenings is a steady and delicate film that shows Dr. Malcolm Sayer, played carefully by Williams, open up and accept love and life through his helping of others. In Flubber, it is about Professor Philip Brainard who needs to overcome his own issues of forgetfulness and aimless mindedness to love and accept the love of his fiancee.
Awakenings and Flubber are two very different approaches to the same problem. Dr. Sayer is so involved in his work and focused on the healing and helping of others that he essentially cuts himself off from any real relationship. It is genuine and heartfelt as we see him grow from a solitary introvert doctor to a man who can go on a date with a girl and live fully. In Flubber, it is the self-absorbed Professor Brainard who can’t even remember his own wedding. These two distinct yet similar characters carry the same flaws and have the same issues that need fixing.
It is the careful nuance and well-crafted story of Awakenings, however, that is the most effective of the two, but that isn’t to say that Flubber is completely dismissive. Flubber certainly has its moments of glory. It is strangely reminiscent of Blade Runner 2049 and Her, two movies I never thought I would have in the same discussion as Flubber, but here we are. Flubber operates in the same thematic field as Awakenings; it just does it in a lighter, more ‘Disney’ way, and I don’t mean that as an insult.
Flubber, a Disney production, serves the themes and ideas of Awakenings on a more consumable palette. It makes easy choices and cops out of dramatic moments, but when analyzing Disney films I feel you need to look past the veil of silliness and see what the filmmaker was really trying to do. In Flubber, there is this crisp story about family and growing up. Brainard needs to overcome his fears and anxieties about commitment. He needs to open himself up to new opportunities so he can live and feel loved. Love is already there for Brainard, in his fiancee and his creation Weebo.
Awakenings is easily the better movie of the two, as it takes its risks and moments of drama head-on. Dr. Sayer is the extreme version of Brainard. He is so involved in his work and so dedicated to his patients he nearly fails them. It isn’t until he takes a step back that he is able to heal them, if even for a moment.
Awakenings is one of Robin Williams’ best comfort films and performances. It puts on display his deep empathy and care for others in a literal way. Functioning in a similar way to Sean in Good Will Hunting, Dr. Sayer heals and tries to give life to another, and in turn, he gives life to himself. Awakenings is just another film which speaks to the personal issues of Williams and the care and dedication to the role shows his understanding and intimacy with the character.
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