This documentary, filmed by Duncan Dallas of Yorkshire Television in 1973, reports on a very peculiar group of patients gathered at Mount Carmel, a chronic hospital raised just after the First World War in the neighborhood of New York.
These patients were survivors of a pandemic that spread around the world between 1916 and 1927. The pathogen (never identified for sure) left them with damages in the mesencephalon and/or basal ganglia that affected the dopaminergic nuclei and their ascending projections (Von Economo 1931), (Rail D et al. 1981), (Kiley M et Esiri MM 2001). These lesions resulted in a form of severe Parkinsonism associated – at least in some cases – with some of the worst examples of apathy, a condition in which the physiological flow of thoughts is frozen. Apathy is exemplified, in the documentary, particularly by the case of Sylvia Schneider (15:02), who went under the fictional name of Rose R. in the book (see below).
These patients were the subjects of a celebrated book, by the same title, by Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who cared for them. Sacks made an attempt at treating them, by administering the drug L-Dopa starting from the summer of 1969, with some miraculous results (awakening some of the patients, literally), followed by heavy falls into the statue-like state, in some of the cases. The documentary is about their struggle to come back to life, after decades.
From the 1990 edition of the book Awakenings, by Oliver Sacks, about this documentary:
They [the patients] encouraged me, earlier, about publishing the book: ‘Go ahead; tell our story – or it will never be known’. And now they said: ‘Go ahead; film us. Let us speak for ourselves’
On Sylvia Schneider (alias Rose R.) see also:
The character of Lucy from the movie Awakenings (1990) seems also largely based on the story of Sylvia Schneider. See the following clip from Awakenings:
Oliver Sacks about the individuals depicted in this documentary:
A meaningful quote from the book Awakenings:
Some of these patients had achieved a state of icy hopelessness akin to serenity: a realistic hopelessness, in those pre-DOPA days: they knew they were doomed, and they accepted this with all the courage and equanimity they could muster. Other patients (and perhaps, to some extent, all of these patients, whatever their surface serenity) had a fierce and impotent sense of outrage: they had been swindled out of the best years of life; they were consumed by the sense of time lost, time wasted; and they yearned incessantly for a twofold miracle – not only a cure for their sickness, but an indemnification for the loss of their lives. They wanted to be given back the time they had lost, to be magically replaced in their youth and their prime.