Michael Crichton’s 1978 film, Coma, tells the story of strange things happening at a Boston hospital.
Seemingly healthy patients are having complications during routine surgery, complications that leave them brain dead. Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) thinks that there’s something bigger going on than just routine medical complications. First, her best friend (Lois Chiles) falls into a coma while undergoing an abortion. Then, Tom Selleck falls into a coma while having knee surgery. Dr. Wheeler investigates and discovers that all of the patients were operated on in the same operating room and that all of them were shipped to a mysterious facility after their surgery.
Yep, it sounds like a conspiracy. However, no one is willing to listen to Dr. Wheeler. Not her boyfriend (Michael Douglas). Not Dr. George (Rip Torn), the chief anetheisologist. Not Dr. George Harris (Richard Widmark), the chief of surgery. Dr. Wheeler thinks that it’s all a conspiracy!
And, of course, it is. As the old saying goes, the only thing that a conspiracy needs to succeed is for people to be remarkably stupid and almost everyone in Coma is remarkably stupid. Admittedly, some of them are in on the conspiracy but it’s still rather odd how many people apparently don’t see anything strange about healthy people going into a comas and then being shipped to a mystery facility.
Coma is probably best known for the scene where Susan manages to sneak into the mystery facility and she finds herself in a room full of suspended bodies. Visually, it’s an impressive scene. It’s truly creepy and it also captures the detached sterility that most people hate about medical facilities. At the same time, it’s also the only visually striking moment in the entire film. Every other scene in Coma feels flat. Whenever I’ve watched this film, I’m always a little bit shocked whenever anyone curses because Coma looks more like an old made-for-TV film than anything you would ever expect to see in a theater.
My point is that Coma is a remarkably boring film. It has a potentially interesting story but my God, is this movie ever a slog. It’s pretty easy to guess what’s going on at the institute so there’s not a whole lot of suspense to watching Susan try to figure it all out. When the truth is revealed, it’s not exactly a shocking moment. For that matter, you’ll also be able to guess which doctor is actually going to turn out to be the villain. There’s really no surprises to be found.
Coma was the second feature film to be directed by Michael Crichton. With the exception of the scenes in the institute, the visual flair that Crichton showed in Westworld is nowhere to be found in Coma. The film moves at a tortuously slow place. A part of me suspects that, as a doctor, Crichton related so much to the film’s characters that he didn’t realize how dull they would be for those us who don’t look at a character like Rip Torn’s Dr. George and automatically think, “He’s just like that arrogant bastard I worked under during my residency!” Call it the Scrubs syndrome.
For some reason, Coma is a film that people often recommend to me. I don’t know why. Trying to sit through it nearly put me in a coma.