The Sleeping Beauty
Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen, and Catherine Breillat, 2010
#21, 2011 Skandies
I looked at some reviews to see what people who liked this movie saw in it. For the most part it seemed to boil down to, "Look at the interesting work Breillat is doing with gender and sexuality in the margins of the story!" To which all I can say is that maybe she should have spent less time on the margins and more time on making the story itself less of a frickin' death march. The movie begins as a reasonably straightforward adaptation of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty", but the princess is dispatched to dreamland fairly early on, and since one of my evaluative patterns states that dream logic is the enemy of narrative, you can probably guess how well the rambling, disconnected second act worked for me. It didn't help that Breillat didn't do much to freshen the content of her source material: it's the same old royalty, the same old creatures from European folklore. This movie was only eighty minutes long but felt like it would never end.
Julia Leigh, 2011
#36, 2011 Skandies
As the link above indicates, The Sleeping Beauty runs afoul of Pattern 29; I thought I'd already written up the pattern that explains where I think Sleeping Beauty goes awry, but while 30 is pretty close, I think I actually have to inaugurate a new one:
|40||Many filmmakers have a penchant for presenting scenes that are meant to make viewers scratch their heads and ask, "What's going on here? What am I even looking at?" Moments like these can have powerful payoffs, but every moment of confusion that elapses in the meantime is unpleasant. In general, a storyteller's goal should be to make the audience wonder what will happen next, not what is happening now.|
Sleeping Beauty revolves around a young Australian woman named Lucy whom we meet in a series of puzzling scenes:
- A man in a laboratory places a balloon at the end of a flexible
plastic tube and then threads the tube down her throat into her
Is something wrong with her?
They speak in a fairly familiar fashion and appear to be around the
same age — is she helping out her friend the grad student?
- She walks into a university lecture hall.
Looks like she's an undergrad.
- Cut to her with an apron on, wiping down a table at what looks like
one of those spots to grab a quick meal on campus.
A guy around her age (co-worker?) hopefully offers her a ride; she gives
him a polite brush-off.
- Now she's at a swanky bar, where another woman around her age (friend?
friendly stranger?) takes her to the bathroom to snort a couple of
Lucy's companion then introduces her to a couple of junior executive
type guys, one of whom immediately declares to Lucy, "We were just
talking about which one of us is gonna fuck you."
So, are they just assholes, or have we just learned that Lucy is an
The fact that (after a little game involving coin tosses) Lucy does go
off with one of them suggests the latter, but then why does she need to
work at a glorified cafeteria?
- Furthermore, if rich guys are paying her for sex, why can't Lucy make
It appears that she rents a room in a friend's inherited house, and when
the friend's brother gets on her case, she hands over a packet with part
of what's due — are we to infer that the packet contains her
take from turning tricks, and she just doesn't charge very much?
Or is that her waitressing income, and going to the bar was just about
meeting her own sexual needs?
- Next we find Lucy in the photocopying room of a corporate
Are we supposed to gather that time has passed, or is Lucy holding down
all these jobs simultaneously?
- And yet another piece of the puzzle: Lucy goes to a man's apartment, smiles, kisses him on the cheek… is this her boyfriend? A repeat client of whom she's grown fond? He talks about wanting to kiss her, and Lucy is sympathetic but makes it clear that won't be happening. Is this a "no mouth kisses" policy à la Pretty Woman, or is this guy just some random friend she likes a lot but isn't attracted to? Or, since it seems like he may be an invalid, might he be someone who hired her to run errands for him? Considering how important this guy ends up being, could we maybe be a little less oblique?
At this point, the plot (such as it is) gets underway. Lucy answers an ad in the local weekly and, following an interview and a meticulous physical inspection, is hired to serve drinks at a party of upper-crust whitehairs, following all the Downton Abbey style protocol, while wearing nothing but nipple-baring white lingerie. Her colleagues look like refugees from a Robert Palmer video and wear even less than Lucy does. Soon the woman who runs the agency has another job for Lucy: she is to drink a cup of a special herbal preparation that will put her to sleep, and the next thing she knows, she'll wake up and be paid handsomely. The catch is that while she is in that drugged sleep, unable to wake up and unaware of what is happening to her, one of the men from the party will be able to do anything he likes with her naked body except penetrate her vaginally. The rest of the movie is about how Lucy's life changes and how Lucy herself changes as she takes on more and more of these sleeping assignments. And almost none of the questions above ever get answered.
There's one that does: no, there are no chronological tricks being played, and yes, on top of her university classes Lucy is simultaneously working at the office and the restaurant — and yet, despite bringing in multiple paychecks, plus whatever income she brings in as a test subject and independent prostitute, until she joins the agency Lucy can't afford a metro ticket and digs in the coin return slots of pay phones for change. I was inclined to take this as satire, or at least as a bit of dramatic license to head off audience objections that Lucy could have found more conventional employment than her sleeping job, but maybe the Millennials watching this would view it as documentary realism. I try to avoid "think pieces" — seriously, Internet, I don't actually need to know what Amanda Marcotte has to say about every goddamn thing — but even I have read more than a few articles about how the under-30 set subsists on stopgap work, since finding one's way onto a career path is increasingly laughable in our thinly gilded age. This might constitute one of the differences between Sleeping Beauty and Eyes Wide Shut.
Bill, the protagonist of Eyes Wide Shut, does have an established career: he's one of the top doctors in New York. This brings him to the attention of the 0.1% of people who control as much capital as the bottom 90%; when they require medical services, they come to him. But though Bill may earn top dollar in the world of work, his income is a pittance to those in the world of wealth, and though his position may command respect in the world of work, to those in the world of wealth he's just the hired help, qualitatively no different from the prostitutes they hire. And Lucy is one of those prostitutes, who like Bill has come to the attention of the top 0.1%, though in her case case due to the perfection of her body rather than her accomplishments. Yes, she's in a different movie, but Sleeping Beauty comes off as an off-brand Eyes Wide Shut to such an extent that I found myself looking less for the similarities than for the differences. One difference that jumped out at me was this: the distinguishing characteristics of the villains of Eyes Wide Shut are class, money, power. Sleeping Beauty touches on those, but a different characteristic comes to the fore: age. The men who pay to play with Lucy's body don't just happen to be old. Think about the service the agency provides. These men could afford any prostitute in the world, including ones just as beautiful as Lucy and whom they would actually be allowed to fuck. Why would they instead sign up to get to second base with an unconscious girl? One reason, we learn, is that the "no vaginal penetration" rule doesn't bother at least some of them, because even in the Viagra age they're impotent. But the main reason is that the unconsciousness is the main thing they're paying for. "You're safe — there's no shame here, no one can see you," the head of the agency repeatedly assures these men. The movie reveals Lucy's body like an extended strip tease, gradually showing us more and more of her and finally rewarding us with the payoff of complete nudity, which is meant to be glorious, and is. It reveals the bodies of her clients the way a monster movie reveals the monster. These men are withered husks, and they're ashamed. They don't want to interact with a beautiful naked girl who can look right back at them, because the reward wouldn't be worth the humiliation.
This emphasis on the predators as geriatric made me wonder about the extent to which we're supposed to read the age cues literally. While it is certainly not the case that everyone who came of age in the 20th century did better for themselves than those coming of age in the 21st, Millennials as a group do have a legitimate grievance against members of older generations who enjoyed inexpensive education and career stability, took those things away from the generations that came after them, and then blamed the hardships young people consequently face on their supposed lack of character. But my inclination is to read this metaphorically, as the ultra-rich have long relied on not being seen in order to remain in power. That is, those who actually produce goods and services generally have a sense that they are not enjoying a lifestyle commensurate with their contributions to the commonwealth, and their sense is correct, as the purchasing power they have earned is instead siphoned off to a class of rich parasites who don't produce anything. But the vampires retain control of society by staying out of sight and encouraging the producers to direct their grievances toward other targets. Hey, citizens, you're poorer than you should be because immigrants are taking your jobs! Hey, whites, you're poorer than you should be because minorities on welfare are stealing your money! Hey, men, you're poorer than you should be because women don't know their place and are crowding you out! Pay no attention to who has actually captured nearly all of the wealth created by your increased productivity over the years! Don't look! Don't look! The rich prey on the poor; film is a visual medium; showing a sadistic, superannuated creature of privilege befouling the exquisite body of an impoverished youngling who isn't looking at him is a way to make this abstraction concrete.