Film: Coma

I had pretty low expectations for Coma (1978), which is probably why it met them so comfortably. Dr. Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) is a resident at a prestigious Boston hospital whose chief problems in life are long hours, institutional sexism, and a contentious relationship with her boyfriend, fellow doctor Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas). But her life takes a dark turn when a close friend, during a routine operation, falls inexplicably into a coma. To face up to the tragedy, Susan looks into her friend’s death, and uncovers a troubling pattern of mysterious coma cases at the hospital. As she gradually starts to unearth the connections and get closer to the truth, she lands in more and more jeopardy.

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, Coma is a film very much of its timeā€”or perhaps, derivative of its time, with echoes of Hitchcockian suspense, prurient Brian De Palma camp, and the paranoid conspiracy thriller. If you like all those things, Coma is decent comfort food, dated but fun. Bujold is a capable central presence, and the supporting cast is solid, including a creepy Elizabeth Ashley and the predictably devious Rip Torn and Richard Widmark. Crichton’s direction is fine, although he has occasional Altmanesque pretensions, and he’s probably a little too fond of his own incidental dialogue. (This thing could have used a good edit.) But it’s got some memorable images and moments, and a nice retro thriller style to it. Fun stuff for the right viewer.

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