Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Breakdown" (which also inspired Stephen King's short-story homage, "Autopsy in Room 4") stars Hayden Christensen as a young New York City billionaire who goes under the knife without sufficiently undergoing anesthesia, a disturbing real-life OR phenomenon known as "anesthetic awareness."
Young Clayton Beresford Jr. (Christensen), son of the late and much-loved capitalist Clayton Beresford Sr. (Sam Robards, in flashback), almost has it all. Voted Barron's Man of the Year at the tender age of 22, Clayton Jr. now heads Beresford Capital and is about to oversee a controversial merger with a suspect Japanese company with alleged ties to organized crime. Despite his riches and success, there are two things Clayton doesn't have: a healthy heart -- he's on the list for a transplant he insists be preformed by his good friend and cardiologist Jack Harper (Terrence Howard) -- and the woman he loves, Samantha Lockwood (Jessica Alba), a girl from the wrong side of the river (Brooklyn) who also works as an assistant to Clayton's imperious widowed mother, Lilith (Lena Olin). Clayton has the ring and the marriage license, but he's nervous about telling Lilith, who's been unnaturally attached to her son ever since her husband's death. Clayton knows she won't approve, and after finally getting up the nerve to tell her on the night of the company Halloween party, he gets exactly the reaction he anticipated. Undeterred, Clayton proposes to Sam, she accepts, and they decide to get married that very night. Not long after the midnight ceremony, Clayton gets the call he's been waiting for: a healthy heart has just become available. Clayton and Sam rush to the hospital where Lilith is already waiting with a last ditch plea to allow world-renowned heart surgeon Dr. Jonathan Neyer (Arliss Howard) perform the surgery instead of Jack who's currently facing four malpractice suits. Clayton, however, stands by his old friend and after he's prepped for surgery, is wheeled into the operating room. But not long after Dr. Larry Lupin (Christopher McDonald) -- an eleventh-hour replacement for Jack's usual anesthesiologist -- administers the drugs, Clayton comes to the horrifying realization that while the anesthesia has complete paralyzed his body, his mind and his sense are still quite alert. He can feel them slicing into his chest, sawing through his sternum and ratcheting open his ribcage as they prepare to remove his heart. Worse, he can also hear someone in the room scheming to make sure he never makes it off the table alive.
The terrifying idea that a patient can fall victim to anesthetic awareness -- an occurrence the film assures us at the outset is all-too common -- goes right to the root of one's fear of surgery and bodily invasion, but creepy Oedipal overtones notwithstanding, writer-director Joby Harold's take on it is a snore, and a preposterous one at that. There's really no reason the entire film should unfold over the course of a single day -- you're already tired of the improbabilities long before Clayton even enters the hospital -- and Harold works around the fact that our hero is flat on his back and immobile for much of the film by using a terrible voiceover, out-of-body experiences and silly encounters on the astral plane to push the plot forward. What a waste. Check out "Breakdown" or Aldo Lado's 1971 Italian giallo LONG NIGHT OF THE SHORT DOLLS for a far better treatments of the same subject. leave a comment --Ken Fox