Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Official Website for film. 
imdb Entry
Julia Leigh, director and screenwriter


This is not an erotic movie.
This is not a fun movie.
It will not make you laugh.
I doubt it will make you cry.
It will leave you with questions and will make you think.
It is beautiful and it is sterile.
It is cold and heartless and as perfectly crafted as a scalpel.
This is not a sort of fairy tale.

The trailer tells you otherwise, but it is a lie, like most of the movie. Don't get me wrong, there are are many lovely women, almost all of which are functionally nude in most scenes, but the point of these scenes are not to titillate.  This film is not an examination of sex but rather the emptiness of life.  If I had to compare this movie to others I would say it is a cross between the Black Swan and Eyes Wide Shut, and comfortably sits between those two in terms of theme, execution and quality.

Ooh, yeah, Babydoll, take it, ooh yeah.  
Our first view of this world is the sterile, clinical environment of a college laboratory, where our heroine is seemingly a regular.  We don't know what the test is but we do know that it involves her swallowing a sensor of some sort, showing us right away that she has the ability to deep throat.  The director shows us something that should be hot, sexual and porn like, but removes any possibility of it being sexy.  Rather it is almost painful to watch.

We observe our supposed heroine, Lucy, with detached voyeurism.  We can gather that she is a university student, she has a job cleaning tables at a restaurant, works as a copy girl in an office, she hates her roommates and they her.  She is in love with a feckless literary sort, a sexless relationship where she adores him and he just doesn't care enough to engage in.  Oh, they are friends and he likes her, but he doesn't have the vitality to want her.  So she goes to high end bars and gets picked up by the most blunt and sexually aggressive.  She has an emotional relationship with one man, but fucks pretty much anyone else.
Birdman and Lucy, sitting in a flat not K.I.S.S.I.N.G.  
Random blokes in a bar literally flipping a coin to see who gets to fuck her.
We don't really get to know Lucy because she really doesn't have much personality.  I first came across Emily Browning in Zac Snyder's Suckerpunch, where as Babydoll she was a blank canvas for men's desires and fantasies.  She plays essentially the same role here, this will suit her well in her new job.

She responds to an ad in the student newspaper and while we hear only her half of the conversation her answers are "slim" and "pert" and from the weird out expression on her face we can guess the questions refer to her size and breasts.  The next scene has her in an interview with a lovely, self possessed woman of wealth and taste, Clara.  In this one scene we get more of Clara's personality than we do of Lucy's in the entire film thus far.  Clara is honest with our heroine, explains that the work should not be considered a career, that it is freelance and not to be depended on.  She expresses an almost maternal regret that implies on some level Clara must have done this work herself once, or perhaps she has simply seen this play out too many times.  She does assure Lucy that she will not be penetrated.  That her vagina is a temple.  Lucy derisively counters that her vagina is not a temple.    She is examined right there, undressed and fondled and it never feels sexy.  It is a gynecologist visit.

Still, she takes the job and we find her arriving at a very posh estate, hard woods, obviously a home of significant wealth.  There she is met by a severe looking woman in heavy black make up and a black silk gown.  She looks like something from a Robert Palmer video were it not for the strange painted on sigils on her forehead.

She's addicted to love.
This woman has explicit instructions.  Lucy is told to go dress in the other room and with the lipstick pallet there to "match, an exact match, the color of (her) labia".  To her credit this actually surprises Lucy.  Lucy's costume for the evening is a vanilla ice lingerie set which is insufficient to cover even her petite, pert breasts. The ignores the instructions as far as her make up goes and the first woman is forced to do it for her, going so far as to inspect the color for herself.  Lucy doesn't resist.  It's almost as if it was exactly what Lucy wanted.
See what I told you?  Addicted to love.
Lucy is the wine server at a very upscale, black tie, dinner party.  She expertly navigates the room as the austere woman and a half dozen or so similarly made up women serve quail and caviar in g-stings and cupless bras.  She is almost pristine by contrast where these other women are fully displayed she is the only thing left to the imagination.  The dinner guests are mostly older men and one woman, some of then exhibiting the natural derision of the exorbitantly wealthy, others a sort of resigned weariness.  We hear a sad story from the host, a gentle looking old man, a story of loss and memory, of a dead wife and a long past anniversary.  This story is told in such a droll fashion rolling out of his mouth like a bad poetry recitation and his guests look on impassively.  A toast is made and the table intones expressionlessly along with him.

After dinner have drinks, brandy and wine, and the sexual aspects go up a notch.  Whereas before the girls were merely scenery now they drape themselves across our dinner guests and present themselves as pieces of woman shaped furniture.  A couple of them even lay in a yoga pose before the mantle with their hands spreading their "temples".  We have watched now several minutes of women displaying their wares openly, and yet, none of this is sexy.  It's clinical, a show, it's performance art both internally to the characters in the film and to us the audience.  At no point do we ever believe that anyone is getting off or even excited.  No, what we see is a bunch of sad old men living out a functionally impotent bondage fantasy.
Blurred for modesty, such as it is.  You can just make out the two ladies playing "temple"  in front of the fireplace.
Lucy is paid well for her work but we see her burning some of the money.  She has been working several odd jobs so obviously she needs the money, why is she burning it? Maybe it is just a big screw you to her roommmates that she owes money to, maybe it is because really the money is not the point of this little adventure.  She wants to be wanted and the man she loves doesn't really see her.  

Eventually she is taken to an estate in the country, far from town.  There she meets Clara again and attends a highly ritualized tea where it is explained that she will be put to sleep, a deep sleep, that will leave her groggy but she will recover.  She will be not penetrated and she will not know what happens to her.  This, of course, is where we get the title of the movie.  

Our host from the dinner party loves his stories and we get to hear another one as he Clara takes him to our sleeping beauty.  Equally droll, equally languid, and even sadder than the first because it is so long.  He sounds like a high school English teacher long past the point he should have retired making a point no longer needed or even heard.  Clara is a good sport though and as a madame may be one of the most compassionate we have seen on screen.  Eventually the host lets Clara leave and he undresses.  He is a brave man, this guy, to undress fully on screen.  What follows is not sex.  It is not sensual. It is misery and sorrow.  This man lost his wife years ago and he paints her image on the blank canvas that is Lucy.  

Back in the real world we see her get kicked out of her place because she still has not paid the roommates.  We see her go about her meaningless, dull jobs.  We see her go to class where she obviously has no interest.  She gets a new place, a high end apartment.  Then, we see real emotion.  She rushes out of class to come to the side of Birdman, her passionless friend, who is quite sick.  She undresses and climbs in to bed beside him in a sort of reverse play on the scene with the host.  

This cuts directly to a funeral where she walks with an unnamed man, asking her when the last she saw him.  She lies and says months.  We learn that Birdman's brother found him two weeks after his death.  She loved him and was by his side at death but did not report it?  This is our heroine.  

She goes back to Clara's house twice.  Each time a man from the dinner party uses her to fulfill his fantasies. We the audience have to assume that Lucy wants to die.  I found myself continually thinking that she has to know that this world is inherently dangerous.  She is surrounded by very wealthy people with enough power to engage in really outlandish behavior without fear of reprisal.  She is drugged in an estate in the middle of nowhere and treated as a sex doll.  Clara says the only rule is no penetration, but that leaves many things to the imagination.  

Eventually Lucy's curiosity becomes too much and she buys a small camera.  When we next see her at Clara's she begs to be allowed to see, just once what happens.  Clara patiently, gently explains why it cannot be.  Of course Lucy was only asking out of politeness she has plans of her own. 

We meet the host again, but this time he takes the tea as well, after being asked is he is sure.  There is no long story this time, no droll meandering allusion to his pain.  He simply undresses and climbs in to bed.  The lights go out on the scene.

Clara enters the room stage left, opens the windows casting the room in stark morning light.  She checks the Hosts pulse, twice, and is not surprised to find him dead.  She attempts to wake Lucy and finds her unresponsive.  Panicking she rouses her with mouth to mouth and when Lucy realizes she is in bed with a dead man freaks out screaming.  The lights go dark.

We see the video that Lucy took, grainy and washed out, of she and the Host laying there.  Sleeping and dead.  

The whole movie we have watched Lucy go about her life as an empty canvas for other's desire, but what was not clear was that she was just as empty to herself.  What she wanted most was to be wanted, desired, something needed.  She needed to see what was being done to her not out of a sense of curiosity so much as perverse need to experience her own sex life as a voyeur.  Unfortunately for her The Host wanted to die beside a woman he could project his dead wife onto, and so her video only captured a peaceful suicide, a metaphor for her own sex life and this film. 

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