The Thing I Like About …

Awake (2007, Hayden Christiansen): the part where his mother lights her cigarette.

Awake follows a young man’s attempt to get a heart transplant before his own heart stops working.  His mother (played by Lena Olin) wants him to consult her own physician – the best heart surgeon in the country – but Clay (Christiansen) wants his friend Dr. Harper to be his surgeon, and he places his trust in Dr. Harper.

Of course, things go horribly wrong.

Clay is prepped for the transplant, and is given anesthesia; he then experiences anesthesia-awareness, a lovely little complication wherein he is fully aware of what’s happening to him during surgery but is helpless to move or communicate to the surgeons – the surgeons who cut into his chest and pull out his heart.


Clay begins to wander through his memories in an attempt to retreat from the pain of the ongoing operation.  Things have all sincerely gone horribly wrong, and he is in fact dying.  This is represented, as he walks “home” in his imagination, by each street light going out consecutively, leaving a growing trail of darkness behind him.  He goes into his “house”, where the lamps also go out one by one, as well as the fire in the fireplace.  He makes his way upstairs and lies down wearily on his bed, and the bedside lamp goes out too. He’s in pitch black now, and we know that it’s because his body (and his spirit) are very nearly dead.  He’s very nearly dead.

And then his mother lights her cigarette.

She’s sitting by him in his imagination-bedroom, and smoking a cigarette, and she’s telling him how much she loves him, and how proud she is of him, and how wonderful he is, and how strong.  She’s telling him how gladly she would die for him, how she would give him her own heart, because that’s what mothers do.  She lights her cigarette, and it’s the only light in the room, and Clay follows it out of his imagination-house, out to where he can wake up and be alive again.  He uses her little light to light all the other lights.

Her little light saves his life.

We’ve all been in darkness, both real and metaphorical.  We’ve all waited and hoped to see that little light.  We’ve all clung to it with every ounce of strength.  Yet we’re sure that our own contributions are small, that we’re not important or strong or good enough, that what we have to offer isn’t worth anything.  We don’t think we can really heal or fix or help.

But in the pitch-black, one little light makes all the difference in the world.

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