Director: Julia Leigh
Cast: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Peter Carroll, Michael Dorman, Mirrah Foulkes, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Chris Haywood
Runtime: 2 hrs 7 mins
Rating: R21 (Nudity and Sexual Scenes)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.sleepingbeautyfilm.com/
Opening Day: 22 March 2012
Synopsis: "You will go to sleep: you will wake up. It will be as if those hours never existed." Death-haunted, quietly reckless, Lucy is a young university student who takes a job as a Sleeping Beauty. In the Sleeping Beauty Chamber old men seek an erotic experience that requires Lucy’s absolute submission. This unsettling task starts to bleed into Lucy’s daily life and she develops an increasing need to know what happens to her when she is asleep..
Not to be confused with the classic Charles Perrault fairy tale or a remake of the 1959 Disney animation, Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s big-screen writing/ directing debut is quite simply about a gorgeous university student who takes up a self-abasing job of allowing older men to enact their erotic fantasies on her naked body while under drug-induced unconsciousness. That synopsis may raise some temperatures, and perhaps even be titillating enough to put some bums on seats- but make no mistake, this supposed parable on feminism is as soporific as its title suggests.
It’s a pity really, for Leigh’s screenplay had an intriguing conceit that was good enough to be blessed with a 2008 Black List selection and the attention of acclaimed auteur Jane Campion, both of which were probably instrumental to getting the film made in the first place. But for all its promise of being a sexually charged exploration of female submission, objectification and depersonalisation, Leigh’s puzzlingly elliptical approach to her own material all but ensures that her well-meaning but poorly executed study remains only skin-deep.
Indeed, Leigh takes the detachment of her titular character, otherwise known as Lucy, upon the film itself, and the similarly detached manner by which she treats Lucy undermines her movie. Lucy remains an enigma before and after the movie, and it is never clear why she is so disaffected in the first place. Along with that ambiguity comes the inevitable scepticism why such a beautiful young woman would accept such a demeaning job in the first place, putting her dignity and her very own life literally in the hands of wealthier old men.
To be sure, the earlier scenes where Lucy is seen scraping her way through university making copies in a dreary office, cleaning tables at a cheap restaurant and offering herself as the test subject in a science lab are supposed to illuminate the existential malaise she is in. Yet the reasons for her current state is only very briefly hinted at- a phone call with a mother with credit problems, a terminally ill friend Birdmann (Ewan Leslie) whom she visits regularly, and insouciant sexual attitudes- with little attempt to relate it back to how they eventually drive Lucy to be the person she is now.
Without that clarity, Lucy is as good as an empty vessel, just another ‘object’ that Leigh invites her audience to project their own sexual desires upon. Prurient as it sounds, it’s clear from how Leigh lets her shots linger over Emily Browning’s flawless pale skin that she is well aware of the effect they will have on persons of the male gender. Instead of being a meaningful examination on exploitation of the opposite gender therefore, it wallows in the same lascivious pleasures and becomes as guilty as the very kind of individuals it wants to chastise in objectifying the female body.
Of course, if that’s your purpose in catching this movie, then you’ll probably come off quite satisfied with the amount of nudity present in the movie- though you ought to know that you won’t catch any action going on. Browning, also an object of fetish in Zack Synder’s ‘Sucker Punch’ has a mesmerizingly ethereal beauty about her, which the former child actress puts to good use in this role. Sadly, there is little beyond her looks to admire about her performance, which turns out affectless, opaque and ultimately uninvolving.
Equally important to note too is that the movie does take its own time to get to its undisputed highlight, stripped as it is of any narrative tension or dramatic momentum. Less patient viewers should therefore steer clear of this, because not only will Leigh’s abstruse treatment frustrate, so will the leaden pace by which events unfold. Except for the sight of Browning nude therefore, this is as sleep-inducing as it gets- and if that came off as superficial, that’s because the movie offers nothing more beyond those simpler pleasures.
(Forget the titillating poster- this exploration on female objectification and depersonalisation is devoid of sexual tension and as soporific as its title suggests)
Review by Gabriel Chong