VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the September 22, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
Robin Cook graduated from Wesleyan University and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons before finishing his postgraduate medical training at Harvard. One of his first medical jobs was running the Cousteau Society’s blood-gas lab. He later became an aquanaut with the U.S. Navy’s SEALAB program and reached the rank of lieutenant commander. His first novel, Year of the Intern, was written while he was on the crew of the submarine USS Kamehameha. When that book failed, he studied how best sellers became big books and used those techniques to write Coma, saying “I studied how the reader was manipulated by the writer. I came up with a list of techniques that I wrote down on index cards. And I used every one of them in Coma.”
He said of the book, “I suppose that you could say that it’s the most like Coma in fact that it deals with an issue that everybody seems to be concerned about. I wrote this book to address the stem cell issue, which the public really doesn’t know anything about. Besides entertaining readers, my main goal is to get people interested in some of these issues, because it’s the public that ultimately should be able to decide which way we ought to go in something as ethically questioning as stem cell research.”
Michael Crichton, who directed this, met when Cook when the future Jurassic Park writer was doing post-doctoral work in biology at La Jolla’s Salk Institute. This would be the first movie he’d direct after Westworld.
Dr. Susan Wheeler (Geneviève Bujold and wow, she’s amazing and gorgeous in this) is a surgical resident at Boston Memorial Hospital. One day, her friend Nancy Greenly (Lois Chiles, Moonraker) dies on the operating table during a basic surgery. She starts to take notice of how many otherwise healthy young people are dying in operating room 8. Yet her boyfriend Dr. Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas) thinks it has to be a coincidence.
She tries to investigate but ends up angering Dr. George (Rip Torn), the Chief of Anesthesiology, and Dr. Harris (Richard Widmark), the Chief of Surgery. She begins to feel all alone, even doubting her lover Mark. It’s all connected to the mysterious Jefferson Institute, a place where all of those supposedly dead people are kept alive to be sold to the international human organ black market. Soon, she’s knocked out and being wheeled into surgery herself and headed to OR 8. Can her boyfriend save her in time? I was worried until the credits.
Crichton said, “This is a story that contains many elements of reality: the fear people have of surgery, the fear of dying at the hands of your doctor, phobias about hospitals. Those are very real fears, and so to exaggerate them would not be much fun. My idea was to put the picture together in such a way that the fears are put in a safe prospective, and can be enjoyed as scares, without awakening deeper and more real anxieties.”
Despite Crichton trying not to scare audiences away from hospitals, many physicians and hospital administrators claimed that that was exactly what happened.
You know who did see this movie? Harry Manfredini. That noise that rings out when someone is being stalked would get used by him a year later in Friday the 13th.