Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Enough to wish you were asleep

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 24 April 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:961
  1. Neville W Goodman, retired anaesthetist
  1. nevwgoodman{at}

The plot of a new thriller hinges on the “common” occurrence of anaesthetic awareness. Neville Goodman is unimpressed

The press release for Awake says that the film is a psychological thriller about a common occurrence called “anaesthetic awareness”—being aware while under anaesthetic. It is important, when you review fiction, not to get too caught up in your special knowledge. In 1998 the film Elizabeth played fast and loose with history but was generally reckoned a good film. The 2007 follow-up, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, fell foul of the critics, who therefore emphasised its playing even faster and looser.

There may be uncertainty about the phenomenon of anaesthetic awareness, but it is certainly not common. The film starts starkly with numbers: 22 million people undergo anaesthesia every year; 30 000 remain awake. Awake is a US film, and these figures, the same as given by Wikipedia, are for the United States. Thirty thousand is too many, but it is still only 0.14%.

In Awake a man has a heart transplantation while explicitly …

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