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Thursday July 19th 2018

Awakenings | 1990

Awakenings location: Enid A Haupt Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx
Awakenings location: Dr Sayer relaxes: Enid A Haupt Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx | Photograph: wikimedia / King of Hearts

An unusually subdued Robin Williams plays Dr Malcolm Sayer, a character based on Oliver Sacks, the introverted psychiatrist who woke near-comatose patients with the drug L-Dopa, only to see them react violently to the drug’s side effects and lapse back into their vegetative state.

Set almost entirely in the Bronx, where the movie opens in the Thirties with young Leonard (who grows up to be Robert de Niro) carving his name on a bench at the foot of Manhattan Bridge. Fast-forward to 1969, and Dr Sayer arrives at the (fictitious) ‘Bainbridge Hospital’, where Leonard and the other vegetative patients are resident.

‘Bainbridge’ is the real Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, 681 Clarkson Avenue off Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, dressed as the late Sixties by production designer, the late Anton Furst.

Sayer’s home is on City Island in the Bronx, only a few steps from Oliver Sacks’ real home, while the house of Leonard’s mother is a brownstone in Brooklyn’s classy Park Slope district. Leonard’s elementary school can also be found in Park Slope.

The botanical garden, where Dr Sayer relaxes, is the Enid A Haupt Conservatory of New York Botanical Garden, Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road in Bronx Park, the Bronx. You might recognise the conservatory from Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence.

The dance hall, where the newly-awakened oldsters find out that Prohibition is over, was Casa Galicia, now the Brazilian Missionary Church, 3922 30th Street, Long Island City in Queens.