There’s a moment in Sleeping Beauty, when poor Emily Browning, wails like a banshee. At that point I was quite tempted to look up and address the actress directly, saying, “Yes, I quite agree, what is all this nonsense about?” However, I’m far too polite for such a garish outburst. So, I sat quietly waiting for the inevitable, fade to black.
Lucy (Browning) is a university student, she has several part-time jobs including working in an office, a cafe and volunteering her body for medical research. Lucy also (nonchalantly) dabbles in prostitution. So, when Lucy is unable to pay her rent she doesn’t look for another minimum wage job, but responds to an escort advert. It transpires that the escort agency (brothel) offers an exclusive service to only the wealthiest clients.
Lucy’s first job is as a waitress, at a silver service banquet, where all the waitresses wear lingerie. However, it isn’t long until Lucy becomes the titular ‘sleeping beauty’, where she is willingly drugged into unconsciousness, so clients can do what they want with her body, except penetrate her. The joke being that none of the elderly men (who use the service) are capable of getting an erection, let alone sustaining one for intercourse.
It’s plain to see Lucy sees her body as a commodity and the idea of Lucy (woman) submitting her body to men for their pleasure, is the film’s clearest motif, whether it’s for medical science, her dying friend or as a prostitute. There is only the vaguest suggestion that she ‘needs’ to do this, which arises when she’s unable to pay her rent, for her modest student accommodation.
With three legal sources of income, you’d imagine Lucy could afford to pay her rent? I found myself wondering whether this was some sort of statement about the spiralling costs of university fees and the trend for a small minority of female undergraduates to work in strip clubs? But not at any point throughout the film is there any stress placed upon Lucy’s financial woes, in relation to her education.
My greatest criticism of Sleeping Beauty is its lack of an explicit critique, there’s just too much ambiguity. Are we supposed to sympathise with Lucy, the character is, after all complicit in her own degradation. The actress Emily Browning, bravely bares all for her director, Julia Leigh, but it’s difficult to see what for. The only critique Leigh appears to be making and relatively ambiguously (I might add) is that society commodifies women.
Sleeping Beauty is comparable to the navel-gazing, snore-fest which is Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Like Kubrick’s film, Sleeping Beauty features sordid dinner parties, secret societies, graphic nudity and beautiful mise-en-scÃ¨ne. Leigh is obviously very capable behind the camera, but what does that matter when your film is such pretentious, bourgeois twaddle. It doesn’t.