Coma (1978 film)
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|Directed by||Michael Crichton|
|Produced by||Martin Erlichman|
|Screenplay by||Michael Crichton|
by Robin Cook
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Cinematography||Victor J. Kemper|
|Edited by||David Bretherton|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|February 1, 1978|
|Box office||$50 million|
Coma is a 1978 American suspense film based on the 1977 novel of the same name by Robin Cook. The film rights were acquired by director Michael Crichton, and the movie was produced by Martin Erlichmann for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The cast includes Geneviève Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Richard Widmark, and Rip Torn. Among the actors in smaller roles are Tom Selleck, Lois Chiles, and Ed Harris.
Dr. Susan Wheeler is a surgical resident at Boston Memorial Hospital. Susan is devastated when a patient, Nancy Greenly, who happens to be her best friend, is pronounced brain-dead and comatose there after an attempted abortion. Her suspicions are aroused when another young and otherwise healthy patient, Sean Murphy, also falls comatose during knee surgery for a recent sports injury.
Susan finds that over the previous year an unusual number of other fit, young people have suffered the same fate. She discovers three similarities among the cases: they all took place in the same operating room, all patients were tissue-typed and all the comatose bodies were moved to a remote facility called the Jefferson Institute. She offends Chief of Anesthesiology, Dr. George - a powerful figure in the hospital whose wife is also an heiress - by asking to review the relevant case patient charts. Increasingly isolated and under mounting pressure from superiors and colleagues, she wonders whether she can even trust her own boyfriend, Dr. Mark Bellows. She also visits the morgue where a postmortem examination is being performed on Nancy, who had since died. The pathologists are puzzled, and this leads to speculation on how to commit the perfect murder, to which one of the pathologists suggests carbon monoxide poisoning.
Susan is called into the office of Chief of Surgery, Dr. George Harris, owing to her trouble with Dr. George, and given a weekend off to recuperate from the loss of her friend. She and Mark travel to the seaside and spend a relaxing weekend together. Driving back to Boston they see a sign for the Jefferson Institute. Following an access road, a mysterious, imposing and unmarked concrete building reveals itself. Susan wants both of them to go inside, but Mark declines, allowing her to go alone while he waits in the car. After pressing the buzzer at the entrance, she is greeted by Nurse Emerson. Susan announces herself as Dr. Susan Wheeler, and asks if she can enter, but is informed that the facility is closed, but that the next tour for physicians is Tuesday morning.
Returning to join the tour, Susan finds what is apparently an advanced, low-cost care facility for comatose patients. However, while investigating the large areas of the building that were left unvisited, she discovers that the institute is a front for black-market organ sales, where the patients' organs are sold to the highest bidder. Boston Memorial purposefully induces comas in select patients whose organs match those of potential buyers. The patients are rendered brain-dead via covert carbon monoxide poisoning through a line that leads from a tank in the basement to the OR, the valve for which is controlled by a radio signal. While she investigates the Jefferson Institute, Susan is caught on surveillance cameras. She manages to escape security atop the roof of an ambulance leaving to transport harvested organs to Logan Airport.
Susan thinks that Dr. George is the mastermind of the scheme, and rushes to her supervisor, Dr. Harris, with whom she has been confiding, and explains what she has discovered. Dr. Harris offers her a drink which is drugged, and begins to incapacitate Susan while also causing severe abdominal pain that mimics appendicitis. As she begins losing consciousness, Dr. Harris rationalizes that physicians must take charge of certain issues themselves, as neither the government nor the general public is informed enough or inclined to do so. He phones in an emergency from his office, and offers to perform the surgery on Susan himself, in order to silence her by rendering her brain-dead under the pretext of an appendectomy. As they are preparing for surgery, Dr. Harris is informed that his preferred operating room is not available. His vehement insistence upon using room eight arouses the suspicions of Mark, who finds the gas tank and line to room eight – disconnecting it before the carbon monoxide can permanently injure Susan.
Susan awakens after surgery, much to Dr. Harris' surprise, and is wheeled out of the operating room holding Mark's hand. A defeated Dr. Harris is left back in operating room eight, while two police officers wait outside to arrest him.
- Geneviève Bujold as Dr. Susan Wheeler, surgery resident at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Michael Douglas as Dr. Mark Bellows, surgery resident at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Elizabeth Ashley as Nurse Emerson of the Jefferson Institute
- Rip Torn as Dr. George, chief of anesthesiology at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Richard Widmark as Dr. George Harris, chief of surgery at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Lois Chiles as Nancy Greenly
- Hari Rhodes as Dr. Morelind, hospital psychiatrist at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Richard Doyle as Jim, a pathologist at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Lance LeGault as Vince, the truck driver
- Tom Selleck as surgery patient Sean Murphy
- Joanna Kerns as Diane
- Ed Harris as one of two pathology residents who tells Susan how a patient might be killed
- Philip Baker Hall as a doctor
Michael Crichton was a friend of Cook. They met when Crichton was doing post-doctoral work in biology at La Jolla's Salk Institute and Cook was a Navy physician stationed at San Diego.
Crichton described the film as like a "Western... if the doctors are the bad guys they are also the good guys."
Crichton says that even though the lead in the book was a female the studio talked about getting Paul Newman to play it, but he fought it. "If a man had done the movie, it would be a much more conventional thing."
Michael Douglas called the film "the first time I've been offered a project with a good story laid out well, a good cast, and a good director."
Coma was a box office success, earning $50 million US (about $185 million in 2016 US dollars). It was generally well received by critics and audiences. The film holds a 79% rating on the review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.
- Schilling, Mark; Schilling, Mark (4 November 2007). "Index sets up China shop".
- Douglas in 'Coma' New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 May 1977: 70.
- Director Michael Crichton Films a Favorite Novelist By MICHAEL OWEN. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 Jan 1979: D17.
- Munn, Patrick (June 14, 2012). "A&E Sets Premiere Date For Two Part Mini-Series 'Coma'". TV Wise. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- A Labor of Love for Scorsese Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Dec 1976: h21.
- Dr. Crichton prescribes 'Coma' for medics Daniels, Mary. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 10 Feb 1978: b4.
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