[Film Review] Coma (1978)

Coma poster

Title: Coma
Year: 1978
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Director/Writer: Michael Crichton
based on the novel by Robin Cook
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Victor J. Kemper
Geneviève Bujold
Michael Douglas
Elizabeth Ashley
Rip Torn
Richard Widmark
Hari Rhodes
Lance LeGault
Lois Chiles
Tom Selleck
Ed Harris
Richard Doyle
Rating: 6.2/10

Coma 1978

American Science Fiction author Michael Crichton’s second venture into filmmaking after dipping his toes in grinding out a futuristic WESTWORLD (1973) which is in dire urgency of a retrofit (here comes HBO’s popular TV series), COMA is not from his own novels, but transposed from his friend Robin Cook’s book (which also receives a TV re-interpretation in 2012), it cleverly taps into a paranoia-driven (our mortal fear about hospital and surgery), conspiracy theory routine that takes place in a major hospital in Boston and is headlined by our tenacious heroine Dr. Susan Wheeler (Bujold).

After her best friend Nancy (Chiles) succumbs to a brain-dead coma after a minor surgery, Susan acutely sniffs some goings-on on top of the statistic hokum of bad luck, her pursuance of the truth will duly encounter mounting resistance, but nothing can hold her back, neither the bureaucratic pressure nor a ruthless killer trailing her among the cadaver-riddled hospital rooms in the witching hour. She even goes out on a limb and sneaks into a formidable institution on her lonesome to finally solve the puzzle and miraculously finds an exit route. Yet, just when we are astounded by her moxie and wits, she predictably makes a fatal mistake and throws herself on the mercy of the vile ringleader to be silenced on the operation table by carbon monoxide poisoning, only to be rescued by her knight-in-shining armor in the eleventh hour, as an ostensibly female-centered trend-bucker, that final phallocratic deed is tastelessly self-defeating.

What is more excruciating is the portrait of the aforementioned knight, Susan’s boyfriend and colleague Dr. Mark Bellows, played by a flip Michael Douglas, often gratingly plays the contrarian whenever a stressed Susan propounds her theory, and Crichton rams the hovering question into his audience by implicating that he might be complicit in the whole backdoor human organ trafficking, simply to pull off the kicker and feather the movie’s deceitful macho nest, don’t forget, he is the one who would rather staying in his car and leaving Susan alone to visit the sinister-looking facility in the first place, plus, if he were really such a perfect dreamboat, it would not have taken him until that later phase to realize that something is amiss.

While it is the imagery of horizontally floating comatose patients (all young, fit bodies, for practical and aesthetic reasons), that chiefly subsists the film’s dimmed allure, there is no denying that a pert and competent Ms. Bujold makes for a strikingly sympathetic heroine, in spite of Crichton’s carefully veiled comments on women liberation, as Mark frustratingly mutters, he should have fallen in love with a nurse instead, which strikes her as a frigid, lippy woman whose femininity is subdued by her own aptitude.

Finally, two supporting turns are worth singling out here, an authoritatively stern Rip Torn can always give us goosebumps even without uttering one single syllable; whereas a blink-refraining Elizabeth Ashley knows perfectly how to put impersonality to the fore, her Nurse Emerson could be intricately computer-manufactured herself, to more align with the drift of Crichton’s works.

referential film: Crichton’s WESTWORLD (1973, 5.7/10)

Oscar 1978 - Coma

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