Film Review – Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty (MA)

Directed by: Julia Leigh

Starring: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie, Henry Nixon

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

So puzzling and enigmatic is Sleeping Beauty that it took me a couple of head scratching days to figure out what to make of it. It is cold, distant, fiercely ambiguous and yet mysteriously intriguing. Motives remain unexplored, relationships are undefined and behaviour flies in the face of logic at times, but Sleeping Beauty baits us with its haunting atmosphere. Others, however, will be driven to maniacal hair pulling while screaming “what does it all mean?!” by so many unanswered questions.

Writer/director Julian Leigh may have a point to make but respects her audience enough to not spell it out. But then again, she may not have a point at all. Part of the beauty of Sleeping Beauty is that it cannot be pigeonholed. Instead of being frustrated by the sparse information about plot and character details, I enjoyed going back over the dialogue and plot developments to try to piece it all together. Cinema does not offer this kind of participation often.

With hints of inspiration from Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut) and Jane Campion (In The Cut), Leigh takes her audience down an untrodden path of high-class prostitution and raw, burgeoning sexuality from a young female’s point of view. Her camera hardly moves, we are set back from her characters with medium shots and scenes can be painfully slow and ultimately uninformative on the surface – but it will play on your mind for days.

Lucy (Emily Browning) is a uni student with several mind numbing menial jobs to make ends meet; she cleans tables, copies documents in an office and signs up for medical experiments. She answers an advert in the student newspaper for some extra cash and after an interview, in which she is required to strip to her underwear, is hired by Clara (Rachael Blake).

Clara provides an unusual service to several elderly men and Lucy’s first assignment is to serve drinks in her underwear at a dinner party for these men. Her colleagues are also in a state of undress while they serve the food. It is an unusual job but the cash is good as she pulls several $100 bills from an envelope when she gets home, which she promptly begins to burn.

Later, Lucy calls Clara seeking more work, which she receives. Lucy’s next job is to be drugged for several hours so the same men may do whatever they want to her, except one thing. It is Clara’s only rule: no penetration. In separate sequences the men awkwardly act out their fantasies on an unconscious Lucy, one is gentle, another vulgar and foul-mouthed. Her curiosity gets the better of her and she decides she must know what goes on when she is asleep.

Much like Jane Campion’s In The Cut, which was thought to be a hollow but bloody murder mystery and dismissed upon release, Sleeping Beauty demands a second viewing. Both Lucy and Frannie Avery (the lead character in In The Cut played by Meg Ryan) may not express their feelings in dramatic monologues, but the clues are there. You just have to look for them and inteperet them as you please.

Leaving so much up to the audience is a bold move on Leigh’s part in the age of spoon fed information. Why does Lucy turn to prostitution? Why does she burn her first night’s earnings then ask for more work? Why does she wipe the drool from a sleeping train passenger’s chin? I think I know, but you decide.

Those after quick fixes of unsubtly hammered home information could become very impatient with this film very fast. Sleeping Beauty may not give you immediate satisfaction, but a film that makes you think for days after it has ended should not be immediately dismissed.

2 Responses to “Film Review – Sleeping Beauty”

  1. I got to see the movie and as you say – it demands a second viewing.
    Not since a long time has a movie got me thinking. I still am.
    You say near the end of your review ” I think I know”. could/can you elaborate?

  2. Julian Wright Says:

    Thank you for your comment. I believe she felt she had such a mundane life that she needed to experience something exciting, thrilling, different. Hence why she burns the money – she isn’t doing it to be paid. But I am sure if I view it again, I may have other ideas 🙂

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