Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Marco (Darío Grandinetti) meet and become friends while caring for women they love in a coma clinic. Benigno is a male nurse taking care of Alicia (Leonor Watling), a dancer he barely knows but became infatuated with just before the accident that put her in a coma four years ago. Marco is a journalist who was trying to interview Lydia (Rosario Flores), a famous female bullfighter, when they fell for each other. Soon afterward, she is badly gored in the bullring and winds up in a coma in the same clinic as Alicia.

Benigno’s care of Alicia in her comatose state is extremely devoted. He talks to her constantly, and he goes to movies he thinks she would have liked and tells her about them. Alicia’s dance mentor (Geraldine Chaplin) also talks to her, and Benigno urges Marco to do the same with Lydia, but Marco is unable to talk to Lydia, whom he thinks of as already dead (there is reason to think that she is, in fact, more gravely injured than Alicia).

Benigno’s caring goes well beyond talking. He tells Marco that he wants to marry Alicia. He also gives Alicia intimate massages, and finally the hospital staff discover that he has impregnated her. He is fired and sent to jail, where he takes his own life. In the end, while Lydia dies, Alicia comes out of her coma to deliver the child, which is stillborn. Marco’s last words to Benigno, at Benigno’s grave: "Alicia is alive. You woke her up."


This film raises some very broad questions about relationships and healthcare. In Benigno’s behavior, how much is love and how much obsession? What kinds of relationships are valid between nurses and patients, and, more generally, between the conscious and the comatose? Finally, could the results of Benigno’s love erase his transgression?

In raising these questions, the film seems ambivalent in its stance toward Benigno. On the one hand, Benigno is charming when he talks to Alicia, and many caregivers in the real world would agree that it is good to think of comatose patients as alive and even as aware. And Alicia survives, whereas Lydia, who is not talked to, dies. The film’s title also seems to support Benigno, as do Marco’s last words at Benigno’s grave. Even Benigno’s name has connotations of goodness and harmlessness ("benign"), and Cámara plays him as childlike and innocent.

Yet Benigno’s impregnating of Alicia, whatever its results, is by most standards a grotesque distortion of caregiving, a major transgression of professional and personal ethics. And while some aspects of the film seem to make a sort of romantic critique of conventional ethical views, others show Benigno as not fully socialized and thus untrustworthy. The film throughout portrays Benigno as having a weak sense of relationship boundaries. He tells Marco that as a young man he frequently granted his mother’s request to massage her "front and back," and we see him early in the film becoming immediately obsessed with Alicia and sneaking uninvited into her quarters (and stealing a comb) when he hardly knows her.

And it seems to be these early delusions of a relationship with Alicia that eventually lead Benigno to impregnate a comatose patient he barely knew when she was conscious. Benigno may be sweet and devoted, but he is also consistently over the line, even before his final act of "caring." The film would make a provocative contribution to discussions of patients’ rights, nurses’ duties, and the ethics of caregiving.


In Spanish, with English subtitles available. Oscar for best screenplay written directly for the screen (Almodóvar); nominated for best director (Almoóvar).

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