Sleeping Beauty: A Classic Fairytale Awakened
27 June 2012 7 Comments
by Aleks Kang
Author-turned-director Julia Leigh presents her first feature film “Sleeping Beauty”. The movie contains elements of fetish, lingerie, kinkiness, servitude and control - in the physical, emotional and conversational sense. It is a provocative expose about alternative sexuality though not in an overt way. First and foremost, “Sleeping Beauty” contains no sex. It is under the surface, dormant, subtly creepy and yet beautiful.
The film opens to one of the most disturbing images in the movie, depicting Lucy as a medical test subject and reveals some of the most disturbing and rare instances of “penetration” in the entire film. Though the scene itself isn’t sexual per se, Leigh’s direction seems to insinuate something almost non-consensual about the act - that Lucy has sold her body and that the medical implementation is a stand-in for a sex act.
Emily Browning (better known for her role as Babydoll in Sucker Punch) gives a well-formed, taciturn performance as the heroine. Browning executes Lucy well and translates her love, death, and sex into an underlying poignancy that needs no soundtrack to evoke one’s curiosity about Lucy’s past. There is a sense that perhaps her life has known failures - perhaps a damaged childhood, maybe a degrading breakup or just plain bad luck. As the audience, we don’t know what came before the first scene but within the gaps - whether due to lack of dialogue, music or movement; we are left wanting. There emerges an urgency inside the quiet that propels the film.
Lucy is a student who does odd jobs to pay her tuition but because her multiple jobs fail to make her enough money, answers an ad and starts working in a sort of high end escort service that specializes in fetishes, mysteries and bizarre requests by very wealthy patrons, with eerie Clara as the madam of the establishment.
When not working, Lucy goes on visits to skeletal alcoholic Birdmann’s home. It is obvious that he is not long for this world and spends his time drinking, reading or waiting for Lucy to visit. Her time with Birdmann is where she is her most expressive and unguarded. Whether they love each other in a romantic way is hard to decipher but there is a tenderness that is in stark contrast to other episodes in Lucy’s life. And yet there is this recurring theme that there is something tragic even in the most basic human contact.
Then, Lucy goes to sleep...
To increase her income even further, Lucy agrees to let Clara drug her and have patrons do what they will while she is under. Clara assures Lucy that she will never get penetrated rather emphatically but part of the bargain is that Lucy can never know what happens during her slumber. And thus, sleeping beauty.
In order to keep some of the film’s plot intact, I will not give away more of the storyline. It is an auspicious debut for Julia Leigh, who was mentored by Jane Campion (director and screenwriter of The Piano and In the Cut). The film is at times slow but there is something painfully intoxicating about it. Some people I’ve spoken to think the movie is anti-feminist, too simplistic or just ridiculous and self-indulgent. Since art is made to be discussed and dissected, I applaud all opinions. As for me, I didn’t find the film to be any of those things. Instead, it seems to say that before we rush into any permanent decisions, statements or judgments about the film or sexuality itself, maybe we should all just sleep on it.
Aleks Kang is a Marketing Writer for Kink.com and a contributing writer for BehindKink.com.
Disclamier: All reviews or articles are op-ed and not the express opinion of Kink.com or any of its partner sites.