top of page
  • Gareth Crook

Coma (1978) - 10/10

Michael Crichton wrote some fantastic stuff didn’t he. I mean not all of it, but I’ll forgive him any missteps when we’ve got films like Coma. We’re in a Boston hospital with Dr Susan Wheeler (Geneviève Bujold) and Dr Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas). The couple dynamics entwined with hospital politics and a patriarchal society give their relationship a lot to tangle with, but let’s just say Susan is no push over. This will be important. In an operating theatre, we’re lead through the details of anaesthesiology for a routine operation. Everyone gowned up, patient on the table and then machines start beeping. Panic for a second and everything settles down, but patient’s not okay. Go in for an abortion and wind up in a coma. It’s a genuinely terrifying scene that sends a chill up your spine. The patient is a friend of Susan’s and this sets her down a path of horrifying discovery. It’s thought to be a freak accident, there’s nothing to suggest otherwise. Apart from one detail, a thread that only Susan is insistent on pulling. Mark isn’t one for ruffling feathers, he sticks to the rules. Rules though are being broken and Susan can’t let it go. On discovering that there’s a rather large amount of patients falling into coma’s in the hospital, she begins to dig. Digging that gets her in trouble. She’s just being a little paranoid they say. She’s stressed they say, maybe a bit tired. It was her friend after all. Then they get Tom Selleck! I mean if that’s not going to push someone over the edge. How could they?? Tom!! He’s a routine patient too, but soon finds himself brain dead (no jokes please). Bujold drives this wonderfully. She’s the hero, the one female voice standing her ground in a world of know it all men. For a film released in 1978, it’s refreshing to see. Douglas is never far away, but it’s clear who the real star is. A hospital is a great setting for a conspiracy theory. All those departments, corridors, people dressed the same, so many people (keep an eye out for Ed Harris). It’s the perfect visual metaphor for the rabbit warren plot this spins. It keeps its powder dry for a surprisingly long time, slowly easing us in. The pacing tied to Susan’s emotions, but as she gets closer to the truth it really keeps you on your toes. The location for the mysterious Jefferson Institute where the coma victims are sent is worth the admission alone. The brutalist architecture filmed in Lexington is stunning. It’s a stark as Mrs Emerson (Elizabeth Ashley) who runs the place. With a menacing stare and the score to back her up. It’s clear that Susan is getting somewhere, especially when the body count rises, outside the operating room. It’s tense. Brooding but with plenty of action too. Hitmen stalking corridors in the night. Creeping through bodies in cold storage. Like I said, tense! The scenes inside The Jefferson Institute are of course the most arresting, but the big question throughout Coma is, why? What’s the reason for all the skullduggery? Susan is going to find out. I’ve always loved this film, but it really holds up well. The perfect 70s sci-fi thriller.



bottom of page