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Sleeping Beauty

Written and Directed by Julia Leigh

Australia, 2011

Cornerhouse, 15 October 2011

Sleeping Beauty

Rather a disturbing film, painting an uncomfortable picture of modern life.

Its subject is oblivion, oblivion as a response to the general dissatisfaction to be found in the human-wrought world.  For Lucy (Emily Browning), this oblivion takes the form of alcohol, drugs and drudgery, the dehumanisation to be found in prostitution.  Marriage is put out there as a possibility (or a joke), but eventually she settles on sleep.  It ticks all the boxes, though there is the problem that you eventually have to wake up.  Suicide might be a better option.

There are some titillating scenes involving scantily-clad young women dressed in fetish clothing, but the true misogyny arises when Lucy is treated as a doll.  It becomes quite unpleasant, so be warned.

At the end of the film, I thought of the young women to be found carved on tombs in various European cemeteries (see David Robinson’s Saving Graces for a slue of such images, or read an interesting discussion of his book here).  That vibe of a beautiful woman mourning the dead, or welcoming them to the underworld – like Anubis bathing a corpse – is present also.

An uncomfortable film to watch at times, but Emily Browning’s performance is astounding.  She is a hunted animal seeking release.