Sleeping Beauty (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

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At this point in my career of film consumption and analytical regurgitation I'm pretty aware some films know I'm spying in on the lives of people who might otherwise wish to remain alone.  Some lives just want to remain closed books.  But here we are, peeking through cameras in tow by visionaries, visually articulating the facets of life reserved for closed doors and private ceremonies.  Voyeurism, since the dawn of film, has been a well known facet of the cinematic experience.

It seems we're entering a postmodern age of the voyeur, and Sleeping Beauty  further highlights the future.  It is obsessed with the way women work into our fiction, only in Sleeping Beauty we see the full effects in drama.  It's an example of the long con, a game where the director is aware of our status as voyeurs, we're aware of our voyeuristic tendencies, and the film plays off of both sides accordingly.

Now we have films where the movie does not play into a grotesque joke, greeting the possible voyeur with an tossed-off glance into the perverse.  Instead the punchline has become far more twisted, hinting at tumultuous sensuality behind the curtain with no clear gender roles, blaming both audience and participants alike for their role in the drama.  To be frank, I don't know or care who the joke is supposed to be on anymore, but if it means getting films as provocative as Sleeping Beauty than I'm fine with a little confusion about the cross-hairs.

Poor Lucy (Emily Browning).  She is saddled with a mom relying on her for funds to continue her psychic reading business.  That might be an immediate sign of the random frivolity of indie film-making in another movie is, here, conveyed as a desperate sign of the economy.  Lucy's mother degrades herself in a profession more faith based than most homeopathic remedies.  At least in that case the sugar washes the lie away.  Lucy is less lucky, selling her body in a multitude of ways to get by in the world.

I pity the economic system that doesn't function with a base of gender equality to exist (which is to say, including our American ways, pretty much all of them).  Lucy's mother may debase herself spiritually, but Lucy allows a research student inside her throat with a camera in the sterile opening.  Shortly after she is in a bar and exerts control over a dominant male attendee by dictating the terms of when and where they have sex, not whether she wants to or not.  Then she gets drafted into a bizarre modeling firm whose visuals are based on Annie Lennox (a wonderful thing) and whose servitude is based on the dark myth of the '50s (much worse).

Sleeping Beauty is as much about the pragmatic aspect of sexism as it is the insidious nature of it.  Lucy takes advantage of the way men look at her, she uses it to get what she wants sexually and professionally, enjoying an immunity in her professional job and for big money in her more lascivious work.  But despite this perseverance the film never forgets, for a single moment, to remind us of the disgusting subtext contained in the way she uses her body as a tool.  We see men trip her, stuff utensils inside her, and use her in ways which seem as fanciful as they do hateful.

Julia Leigh is the undisputed auteur of Sleeping Beauty, creating as the author of the source material, the screenwriter, and the director.  She attracted the attention of Jane Campion, but that should be no surprise given the way Campion has championed the unsung women of the world in The Piano, Bright Star, and more.  Leigh's reminder is less poetic, more functional, and all the more harrowing.  Women keep the fiction, as we know it, alive so long as they are the silent tools of long impotent men.

The metaphors are not hard to read into the late film images of old men, some who seemed previously likeable, mounting the unconscious Lucy so she can afford to pay her rent.  Leigh makes these scenes shimmer with a perverse sexual pride.  All at once they take into account the way older men and women are discarded in every facet to make way for the new generation, at the same time showcasing how the values of the old are put upon the new without them knowing or agreeing to it at any time.

I felt sad when Sleeping Beauty ended, and sadder for anyone who derived titillation from the way Leigh displayed Browning's form.  She is unashamed, but because she has to be in order to get any pleasure out of her life.  It is a series of unending, frozen tortures for the young model to be.  There is no progress, no hope toward a new and better destination, just the idea that whatever she woke up to today will be what she wakes up.  Be the dream-girl, either Madonna or whore, so long as there is no individuality tomorrow.

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Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Screenplay written and directed by Julia Leigh.
Starring Emily Browning.

Posted by Andrew

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