Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sleeping Beauty

By s. Sunday, October 16, 2011 , , , , ,
(104 min, 2011)
Plot: A haunting portrait of Lucy, a young university student drawn into a mysterious hidden world of unspoken desires.
Director: Julia Leigh
Writer: Julia Leigh (screenplay)
Stars: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake and Ewen Leslie

Belle de rêve
“Their eyelids keep the shade.
No harm can come to them.
We cast out skins and slide
Into another time.”
- The Sleepers, Sylvia Plath

What an amazing year for cinema – it's not even November and I've already seen so many wonderful films from 2011. “Sleeping Beauty” was one of those which were the most anticipated by me. This year we have two movies dealing with the subject of sexuality and shame assigned to it, apart from that there is “Shame” - both stories seem to be portrayed in the same, cold and detached way.

Barely 22- year old Emily Browning who ever since “Sucker Punch” is a permanent star of male fantasies takes on one of the most courageous roles I've seen here. For most part she is either naked, degraded, humiliated, licked or touched by old men and during all of that she must appear as if she was sleeping. For any viewer watching this film is not one of the most pleasant things in the world – the story deals with sex, but there is something so repulsive about what we're seeing. Sexual practices shown in the movie are perverse and shameful and if shame was ever the prime emotion to feel it should be for the men who used Lucy's “services” and not for Brandon, the main character of “Shame”, who whilst being a sex addict doesn't depict fetishes so weird I can't comprehend them.

On the other hand, all of Lucy's client are deeply in the grief – they lost someone, something, perhaps even only their youth. They pay the cost and get to do whatever they want with beautiful, angelic looking Lucy. There is something incredibly tragic at the idea of those men having imitation of joy, probably one of the few highlights of their life left, by doing something so vile and ultimately – completely empty and artificial.

Lucy is given a special tea before every encounter that puts her deep in the sleep. Then she wakes up and she has no idea what happened to her. During this time a client comes in and can pretty much do whatever he wants with her. Why does Lucy do it? For money. She has many jobs, but she still can't make the ends meet. Not only is Browing's performance so mesmerizing for her courage – she actually makes Lucy – a person who is very cynical and cold - look like an actual human being. Occasionally careless, confident and determined the girl goes through life pretty much on her own. She has only one friend, hopeless alcoholic. Everything Lucy does can either be perceived as carelessness or the ability to adjust to any situation – when she comes over to visit her friend she gives him breakfast – cereal with vodka. Does she do this because she knows how much detox would hurt him? Or does she do this because she doesn't care?

“Sleeping Beauty” has amazing cinematography that puts Lucy somewhere in the frame, surrounded by the world around her – but she is only a tiny part of it. She is always visible, because it's her story we're seeing, but because of that technique – showing Lucy leaning on the wall in the empty office, walking through empty street, lying on the bed in huge room – we sense the great isolation of her world. Not only isolation from her family, classmates and everyone else, but also from her own feelings. Lucy seems to be sleepwalking through her life, having only glimpses of being whole or fulfilled when she gets high or does one of the bizarre things that seem to bring her joy – when she finally makes a lot of money she burns one of the banknotes, just because she can. She also asks men will they marry her, not because she wants any of that. She only wants them say “yes”.

The nudity in the movie is quite shocking – the contrast between incredibly young and even younger looking than she already is Browning and her old clients is striking. Although there ironically isn't even one instance of actual sex – there is only one rule concerning Lucy “no penetration” - watching those scenes were far more intense than any sex scenes you could see recently. When seeing the clients use Lucy we feel as if we were peeking through the curtain. We see what Lucy isn't even aware of. We feel shame, while Lucy seems shameless. Her agonizing scream near the end of the movie is left ambiguous. What caused it? The fact that she saw who her clients are or the proximity of death?

Still with all the nudity, if you ever read Anne Rice's “Sleeping Beauty” which is also heavily erotic story, nothing in this movie will surprise you. But if you saw “Sucker Punch” you will be shocked at Emily Browning's acting skills - her beauty doesn't overshadow her talent for a second here, even if she's not moving and not speaking. This is a difficult movie, but it pulls you in and places you right there in this bizarre world hiding in plain sight.



  1. Very nice review; I just wish I had ended up liking this one the way you did!

    1. Thank you! I think very few people ended up liking this one, so you are definitely in majority.

  2. Finally a review of somebody who actually understood the movie! I watched this two years ago and i found it brilliant. Good review.