The character of Sleeping Beauty in the classic fairytale is one of innocence and virtue, cursed to remain in a deep, magical sleep by a witch and awoken and rescued by a handsome prince. The film Sleeping Beauty is unreservedly different. It becomes quite clear from the very beginning that this is no fairytale and there is certainly no Prince who will wake Beauty from her eerie slumber.
The character of
Sleeping Beauty in the classic fairytale is one of innocence and virtue, cursed
to remain in a deep, magical sleep by a witch and awoken and rescued by a
handsome prince. The film Sleeping
Beauty is unreservedly different.
It becomes quite clear from the very beginning that this is no fairytale
and there is certainly no Prince who will wake Beauty from her eerie slumber.
Lucy is a young university student who earns what money she
can through various menial and crude jobs, never complaining, yet always
seeking more. She answers an
advertisement in a student newspaper for a job as a lingerie waitress and takes
on the role. However, this job is
not all that it seems as she is being assessed for her suitability to become a
‘Sleeping Beauty,’ where she will be sedated, with her body at the submission
of elderly male clients. After
several occasions, Lucy becomes increasingly curious about what happens to her in
her vulnerability while she sleeps and decides to place a hidden camera in the
gives a powerful performance as the beautiful Lucy, who is a curious character
– her quietly apathetic and reckless nature is deeply unnerving. She succumbs to the will of others by
giving up her body and trust. Lucy
seems to be cursed with a desperate need to satisfy something in her life;
perhaps a perverted sense of adventure, an escape from reality or a form of self-punishment. Outside of her study and work time, we
see her freely accepting cocaine from a stranger, offering sexual favours and
suggesting two strange men toss a coin to decide which of them will have sex
with her. Lucy’s menial jobs
include work in a café, as an office junior and having medical equipment tested
on her and she then moves on to selling her body as a Sleeping Beauty. But why does she do all this? She never appears to be in desperate
need of money. She does owe rent
to her flatmates, yet does not seem bothered about paying it. At one point, after earning her first
wage from her lingerie waitress role, we see her casually setting light to a
$20 bill, despite the fact that she has been warned to spend this money
wisely. There are many unanswered
questions like this in the film and much is left for you to draw your own
conclusions. Throughout the film
Lucy appears to be without emotion, but it becomes increasingly clear that her
feelings are simmering below the surface.
Lucy frequently visits her alcoholic ex-boyfriend, Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), feeding his addiction by
bringing him alcohol and spending time with him, but guiltily refusing his
advances. What little emotion we openly
see in Lucy is in her affectionate relationship with Birdmann while she faces
the harsh reality that he may soon die from his addiction.
Sleeping Beauty is the directorial debut of novelist, Julia Leigh and she has also written
the screenplay. Like in a literary
work, she projects all kinds of imagery and reference in the film, particularly
of the idea of sleep. For example,
we catch a glimpse of an old mattress discarded outside Lucy’s home and Lucy
appears to love sleep herself, lying down in the floor in her office job and
frequently sleeping through the day.
Although deeply exaggerated, the film is technically beautiful, as we
are invited in to a world of eroticism that is presented as high class and full
of secrets, immersed in a grand setting.
It is particularly perturbing when Lucy is drugged with tea politely
served in a china cup, with promises of a sleep that will make her feel
Sleeping Beauty is fully deserving of its Palme d’Or
nomination at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. It is a haunting, intriguing, yet unsettling portrayal of a
hidden world of dark fantasy and desire.