Film Review: Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Usually at Film Blerg, I attempt to write a review of a film. However, due to general laziness and a chance to do something different, I am submitting some thoughts and reflections rather than fully fledged reviews.

Upon hearing that Julia Leigh’s controversial debut feature was a provocative and sexually driven piece, I gallantly glanced upon a blank screen, desperate for something that would shake me. Hoping to have a strong reaction, I was struck by a large feeling towards indifference. I wanted so hard to felt something visceral and instantaneous, but all I could summon and acknowledge were inarticulate feelings of dubious love and distaste.

A week later, I sit, not having written a review, but instead trying to properly articulate my feelings towards this film. Foe me, these feelings draw a similar conclusion when coming out of a Jane Campion film. In retrospect, I respect, understand and fully applaud the audacious and unique cinematic experience I gained. And yet in the moment, I am not feeling any discernible feelings whatsoever.

So perhaps it is easy to begin with the plot. Lucy (Emily Browning) is a student. She works a job in a café, and also volunteers herself to laboratory students. She also frequents bars at night time, engaging in sexually dubious, promiscuous and potentially solicitous behaviour with strangers. Upon procuring an advertisement, Lucy meets with Clara (Rachael Blake). Clara runs a service whereupon young girls entertain older gentleman. From here, a series of events occurs in which Lucy is put to sleep for about an hour while men spend time with her, as she lies unaware of what actually occurs.

One dramatic reading that I could not escape surrounds the idea of an education reform in today’s society. Perhaps it is too silly to even consider, but I recognised the everyday helpless university student in Lucy. She is a young woman who appears dedicated to study, and yet balances work and a social life to a manageable manner. Like most who attempt to endure said accomplishments, life gets in the sticky way, making for unseen and fortuitous obstacles. Lucy is really not any different from other protagonists faced with a money related challenge in cinema. A quick and easy chance to make some money appears, and as many would, she jumps at the opportunity.

Several intense and emotionally violent and volatile sexual encounters provide for the most uncomfortable scenes. I will admit to hiding behind my fingers at the sight of the second old and flaccid penis. But it is these experiences that I do seek as a cinema-goer. Extreme art does indeed promote a dialogue between what is acceptable, necessary and what is indeed artistic. And there is no shortage of this dialogue in Sleeping Beauty.

The film’s pacing works well, creating a sterile world, full of protocols, rules and regulations. The extremely minimal score provides a lack of feeling and uneasiness represented in Browning’s character. She has a strange relationship with a friend named Birdmann (played by Ewen Leslie) that does not seem to work well at all on screen. Their relationship together lacks a proper exposition, and their on screen time suffers for it. Leigh’s script is indeed intriguing and her direction executes this well. A strong cinematic voice appears loudly on screen in Sleeping Beauty. Upon reflection, I can see that this voice is daring its audience to accept the images its being shown. And at the same time, it is presenting a controversial and perverse portrait of a girl who finds herself in a precarious situation.


Sleeping Beauty is on release currently in Australia through Transmission Films.

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