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Sleeping Beauty (2011) – 8.75/10


Sleeping Beauty is the directorial debut of Australian novelist and screenwriter Julia Leigh. Before the film, her novels The Hunter and Disquiet received critical acclaim, with the former being adapted into a 2011 film of the same name staring Willem Dafoe.

Sleeping Beauty first premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and was the first entry to be screened in competition. It was also the first Australian film in competition at Cannes since Moulin Rouge! in 2011. It was released in Australia later that year before premiering in American theaters for a limited release.

The film stars Emily Browning as Lucy who is a university student who has a number of odd jobs. These jobs range from working at a coffee shop, making photocopies at an office, volunteering as a test subject at the medical research lab at the university, and attending high-class bars in order to offer herself as a sex partner.

Later she responds to an ad and meets Clara who explains what the job will be. Lucy will be a freelance server at high-class dinner parties, but dressed only in lingerie. Down the line, she gets offered a different job. In this job, she will drink tea that will make her fall asleep, and then lie down in bed alongside paying customers.

This movie is slightly based off of a 1961 novel by Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. That book followed a lonely man named Old Eguchi who continuously visited a house like this in hope of something more. This movie reverses the viewpoint, and in doing so is able to look at a lot of different themes and ideas will still getting to the ideas that fueled the book and the majority of its content. Because of that, this movie has a lot of heart to it.

I think it is easy to miss that because of the subject matter. People could easily dismiss it for being pornographic, but director Julia Leigh is able to capture the heart and soul of not only what Lucy is going through, but also the different reasons her customers attend these kinds of places. Looking through the minds of the male clients, is it about control, gaining something that was lost, living in something that they never had, being able to feel young again, being able to feel desired or wanted, etc. This is one of my favorite elements of the movie. This is only enhanced by Emily’s excellent acting, as she goes from a person who appears to be a blank slate (except for with certain people) to emotions that finally let out towards the end.

For being a drama, it gives off an uneasy feeling throughout, using surrealistic flowing shots and camera angles, but also by playing on a more humanistic type of horror than most things we are used to seeing from horror movies. It deserved to be as talked about as it was at the Cannes Film Festival, and the vast threshold of mixed reviews shows that the director definitely did something right. If people’s views of a film are so extreme, she did what all directors aspire to do, and that’s: get people talking.

If you have already seen this film and didn’t care for it, I highly recommend you giving it a second chance, and you might find something there that you missed before. If you have never seen the film, go into it with an open mind. Think about what the director is trying to say. A lot of people have analyzed this film, but there is always more room open for interpretation about it.