On my queue for some time, I finally got round to watching Sleeping Beauty, starring Emily Browning. It is a great and terrific film, an enigma and a mystery — but this is no whodunnit. It is the mystery of adventure — and again, not the Indiana Jones type. Instead the adventure, the mystery is in following the star of the show, Lucy, who has even more irons in the fire than Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive. She’s a college student who also does both waitress and office administrative work, medical experimentation, and possibly prostitution, or at the least sex with strangers. And we’re just getting started: always seeking additional work, Lucy then pursues a position that we find out is a ‘lingerie waitress’ for an elite set of clients. This is where the film begins its journey as a sort of female-perspective counterpoint to the Kubrick masterwork Eyes Wide Shut.
The mystery of this film is twofold: one is Lucy’s character. Though she endeavors in an array of occupations and is in debt to a number of people close to her, she’s also “flush,” able to afford an apartment when she needs to, and to literally burn money for her amusement. She also has an issue with alcohol and drugs, though it’s unclear exactly what toll the toxins are taking on her; she generally is able to brush off the effects and by the following morning regain the utmost decorum and facility. Herein lies one problem with Sleeping Beauty: I didn’t completely buy the alcohol use. She is never shown becoming drunk — though the film cuts away well before she would be, but she also seems to recover too easily. Perhaps her resilience can be attributed to youth.
In any case, Lucy is one complex young woman with a number of contradictions. What puts this movie over the top is the other source of its mystery: the positions Lucy engages in. I was riveted watching her, and when she begins work for rich clients as a private waitress, and then as a ‘sleeping beauty’, I was drawn in ever more deeply.
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Sleeping Beauty is a first-class American horror story. OK, it’s an Australian movie, but the country of origin does not matter here — this story could take place in any first-world country. It is a disturbing film, but not disturbing in a gory, Martyrs or Skin I Live In way. There is a lot of skin, but it is not being excoriated, surgically removed, or otherwise tortured.
This movie has been labeled divisive, controversial. Some critics have called it exploitative misogyny, but I think they offend too easily. It stars an excellent, A-list actress who’s already established herself. It’s directed by a woman, and produced by another woman. If you dismiss Sleeping Beauty as misogynistic, you just didn’t get it. Nonetheless, I offer fair warning that you might be strongly turned off. Also be aware that the film is unrated — there is a relatively high amount of nudity, though it never crosses the line to pornography.
It’s divisive, yes, and will strongly turn off some because it is such a strong film. It does everything that good cinema and good art should do — it ventures boldly, unapologetically, and with a mission. I don’t see how anyone can watch Sleeping Beauty and think, ‘meh’. So-so. I hate to use the cliché, but you’ll probably either love it or hate it. I’m in the loved it camp. 9/10
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Comparison Notes: Eyes Wide Shut, The Skin I Live In, Belle de Jour, Breaking the Waves