Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sleeping Beauty

SLEEPING BEAUTY                           B-              
Australia  (101 mi)  2011  d:  Julia Leigh                      Official site

It’s hard to fathom what women find groundbreaking in sexual objectification these days, but in this film novelist Julia Leigh has brought her talents to screenwriting and directing, creating a mystifyingly strange film defined by its emotional passivity, which may be a comment on the human condition, as we’re allowing anything to happen to the planet without reacting with much outrage, the United States invaded Iraq under false pretext, but the world sat around and offered little response and instead simply allowed it to happen, and AIDS is ravaging through the continent of Africa while many progressive African leaders still remain in denial about even acknowledging the disease and how it spreads, doing little to counteract its horrific impact.  What separates humans from the other animals is supposedly the human consciousness, but do you suppose Ms. Leigh is suggesting we’re simply not using ours or that we’re sitting around and allowing governments and wars to run amok, where the feeble human outcry is pitiful?  Perhaps, yet this is expressed through a strictly sexual contextualization, where Emily Browning plays Lucy, a college student who also works as a Xerox copy girl, a waitress, and side jobs as a high class prostitute, but needing more cash, becomes an upscale specialized call girl for an exclusive men’s club serviced by scantily clad women designed to please.  Lucy hasn’t reached the level of prostitute there yet, as she’s considered entry level material, but should things go well, career advancements are offered. 

Lucy’s specialty at the men’s club is taking a sleeping potion that effectively puts her to sleep, where men can do anything they wish except penetration, where she wakes in the morning without any recollection of what transpired.  This is a job that requires beauty, where amnesia is built right into the job description.  This seems to fit into Lucy’s impassive demeanor, where she has few friends, doesn’t care much about school, yet allows strange things to happen to her, where she signs up for weird scientific experiments which are difficult to watch.  She seems to have a serious relationship with a guy known as Birdman (Ewen Leslie) who we never see leave his room, as he’s apparently an ex-addict, yet their dialogue together feels intentionally forced and artificial, as if this a standard routine between them, perhaps learned behavior which feels like a variation of the outlandishly tame Ozzie and Harriet TV show of the 1950’s.  So they spice things up by drinking vodka.  Still, despite a personal connection, she remains perfectly detached, never showing the slightest feelings, which is exactly how she expresses herself in all her other work, including her specialized nighttime performance of Sleeping Beauty.        

Leigh’s sensibility is a writer, where the accumulation of details is a refined skill, where Geoffrey Simpson’s lush cinematography is significant as well, opening in a dreary medical lab, continuing to find more elaborate settings until eventually she’s photographed under ideal circumstances and appears to be a porcelain doll, perhaps a perfect expression of female beauty, like THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975), whose beauty remains illusory.  In this view, women are perceived as empty receptacles, like a beautiful vase that holds fresh flowers, which will be useless in a week after the flowers wilt.  The real flaw is that in her pursuit of perfection, she’s incapable of any real connection in the world, as evidenced by the near perfect exterior veneer at the men’s club, which is all about manner and the appearance of luxury and hedonism, as the men themselves are old and withering, rather pathetic imitations of the virile men they once were, now disgusted with themselves and their lives, hardly the sort of men who could appreciate the sexual company of any woman any more, so they purchase a picture of pretense, an unsoiled, artificial world where women are no more than decorations, like a wall painting to look at.  The unique formalism of the film couldn’t express more human detachment, where the stark nudity on display is stylishly empty, like turning the pages of a magazine.  Not sure this ever really makes its point, but the experience is unsettling. 

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