Awoken (2010) – By Cary Conley

Owin is preparing to attend his graduation and become a fully-degreed neurologist; his fiancée, Karin, is happily attending the ceremony with him. Unbeknownst to Karin, Owin plans to propose to her after the ceremony, but a horrific accident causes Karin to slip into a coma. As Karin slowly slips away, Owin races against time to discover a way to communicate with comatose patients. Unfortunately, the local review board disagrees with the importance of Owin’s research and pulls his funding. Luckily, Dr. Kaine, another neurologist who lost his wife to a coma, offers Owin his personal lab and carte blanche with his years of coma research. The two quickly form a bond, but will they have time to solve the mystery of comas? Will Karin pass on before Owin can reach her? Are the years of research all in vain, or will Owin finally make the breakthrough he dreams about–bringing his fiancée back from the realm of the dead? Working against the clock, the two desperate doctors feverishly plan one last-ditch experiment in which Owin becomes a living guinea pig, ready to attempt to enter the coma realm in order to save his fiancée’s life, and thereby his own.

Writer/director Casey Chan’s short (35 minutes) film is a romance and human drama with just a touch of science fiction thrown in for good measure. Solidly acted and with a beautiful and touching score, Chan proves to be a deft manipulator of film. I was particularly impressed with the opening sequence that seemed so well-planned and told us so much about the relationship between Owin and Karin and the deep love they had for each other. Shot in montage, we see one of Owin’s degrees in neurology as well as a book written by Karin. The book is about realms of consciousness, so right away there is both a connect and disconnect between our leads: both are interested in the mind, but are counterbalanced between the scientific and the esoteric. But this potential divide has been overcome as seen in the knick-knacks on the mantle, small statues with quotes such as "I love you this much" and "We belong with each other." Artwork on the wall depicts the yin and yang, further proof the couple are devoted to each other. The entire montage is brief, but much is learned about the relationship between Owin and Karin. It is a beautifully written and planned opening sequence.

Chan also does a terrific job depicting the nightmarish accident scene as witnessed by a semi-conscious Owin. With very simple visual and sound effects, Chan portrays the chaos of the events as seen by an obviously fuzzy-headed Owin as the paramedics work to save Karin. This is another scene of keen foreshadowing of the different realms of consciousness the film is addressing. Cut to Owin waking up from the nightmare remembrance of the accident, yet another tip-of-the-hat to levels of consciousness.

In the final scene, Owin climbs onto the lab table and is connected to the apparatus he hopes will connect his brain waves with Karin’s. Owin, a man of science–of fact–is entering Karin’s realm, one of faith. The film ends as the electricity pulses through Owin’s brain and Dr. Kaine whispers, "Go save her." The viewer is left to fill in the blanks. Did Owin really reach Karin, or is the experiment just a desperate attempt by two lovelorn people to reconnect, on this plane or the next? Chan leaves the end open, allowing the viewer to fill in that one last blank, depending upon the viewer’s beliefs.

Awoken is a thought-provoking and sensitive look at love won and then lost, a commentary on science versus faith. No matter where you may lie on the spectrum of those ideas, this film will capture your attention and make you think. Awoken premiered in New York City in November. If you would like more information about the film and future screenings, go to http://www.awokenthefilm.com.