Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh

Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh

Lucy (played by Emily Browning) is a a young university student who does a variety of odd jobs to support her education. She volunteers as a test subject in a lab, a waitress in a cafe, a copy girl in an office, and sits in a high class bar offering herself as an escort. One day, she’s interviewed by Carol (played by Rachael Blake), and ends up doing erotic freelance work in which she is required to be in a drug-induced sleep in bed alongside paying customers. Things ensue.

I saw the trailer for this film on Apple Trailers and read that it played in Cannes. The trailer has all these film critic quotes paying it compliments so I decided to check it out.

The film asks the audience to be afraid for Lucy, that somehow sleeping side these men will somehow rob her innocence. Admittedly I was afraid for her the first two times, only because she is a girl who’s voluntarily put to sleep while these customers are brought in to do anything they want to her except intercourse. After all, it’s only a verbal agreement. Nothing is stopping them from putting it in. By the third time, I was not afraid for her any longer. The first two sleeping sessions should have built up to the third, but it did not.  My chivalry and sense of danger had dissipated and I needed more from the story to care about this girl in this horrible situation. Then I realized, she’s not innocent at all if it’s her third time. And I found this problematic with the movie.

We are given hints of Lucy’s backstory is several scenes. It’s not given with exposition but they are so few and far between it leaves way too many gaps for the audience to construct a real sense of pathos for Lucy. It creates more questions. What’s Lucy’s major? What’s her dream? Why is she financially independent? This is a case of a director being too subtle for her own good. It was as if Julia Leigh was aware of giving exposition in a story and wanted to leave the appropriate amount of empty space for the audience to imagine her past, but ended up leaving too much.

Emily Browning’s role in Sucker Punch and this film reminds me of how the young Natalie Portman used to have a penchant for Lolita-like roles. Part of Browning’s acting presence in Sleeping Beauty is her titillating the audience with her youthful physicality. I was very aware of that in this film because at times I was titillated and other times watching her made me uncomfortable. She had to bear all for this performance and it’s too bad because nothing was said with the nudity. It’s not her fault, she’s a competent actress who is doing what her director is telling her to do. It begs the question, what was Julia Leigh’s objective with this story?

The cinematography attempts an empty creepy tension through its wide still shots, it succeeds part of the time depending on what’s going on, but part of the time it is quite bland. There’s some nice art direction in these locations. To the film’s credit, the wide shots manage to build up to one very effective close-up when an old customer enters with Carol, sits on the bedside next to a sleeping Lucy and tells this very psychotic story straight into the camera. I was creeped out by the old man so much I could not follow the details of what his story was about. What scared me was the prospect of what he was about to do once he was alone with Lucy. But overall, swinging from titillating to creepy to bland, there was nothing consistent enough to  grip me.

Nudity can be powerful in a story when used correctly in the right context, examples such as Monica Bellucci in Irreversible, Tang Wei in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution or even Elena Anaya in Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. I thought about what Julia Leigh wanted to say with the nudity. At one point, it seemed to be the lifeless clinical nudity akin to how Stanley Kubrick used nudity in Eyes Wide Shut and A Clockwork Orange. Is the director using nudity as a symbol of women selling their souls for money through her almost-prostitution-like job? And then I snapped myself out of that notion. “No no no…” I told myself, “You’re not getting away with this.” That’s what Sleeping Beauty was trying to be, but not what it achieved.

Advertisements

Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog

Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog

On October, 24 2001, Michael Perry and his friend, Jason Burkett, decided steal a Camaro from the the Montgomery home of Sandra Stotler. Perry entered the house through the garage. Perry shot Sandra Stotler with a shotgun and the two men dumped her body in Montgomery County’s Crater Lake.

The duo then returned to the gated community where Sandra Stotler lived and waited outside the locked gate until the dead woman’s son, Adam Stotler, and his friend, 18-year-old Jeremy Richardson arrived. Perry and Burkett lured the teens to a wooded area and killed Adam Stotler and Richardson. Perry and Burkett, driving the Isuzu Rodeo Adam Stotler had been using, went back to Sandra Stotler’s home and finally stole her Camaro. They kept the Camaro for no longer than 72 hours and were finally apprehended after a gun fight with the police. Perry received a death sentence and Burkett received a life sentence.

Into the Abyss is the new documentary film from Werner Herzog, it focuses on the two convicts and various people affected by the crime. In his documentaries, Herzog always seeks what he calls the “ecstatic truth”, his theory that storytellers should never look away from the truth. It’s not enough that we know that murder exists. You have to look at it face-to-face. Once you do this, you will find a whole well of deeper truth.

That was my experience watching Into the Abyss, on the surface it covers a very depressing subject. At the helm of any  lesser director it would probably be depressing. Instead, it cuts right through and takes you to different places emotionally beyond “hey dude, murder is depressing, so be depressed while you watch this”. It’s emotionally raw, the parts about the victim’s families dealing with the victim’s deaths are powerful stories. We see that it so much more harder to grieve when one’s death was over something so meaningless. Mostly we can say that these deaths are all made from wrong choices. Did these people have a choice? Some seemingly did and some claimed they did not. It would be so much easier to judge and encapsulate how we feel about a person’s actions if we did not look at the whole truth of his predicament.

There is humor at times, but it’s not there to break tension. It comes as part of the ecstatic truth. Herzog greets the father of Jason Burkett, Delbert Burkett, who is also in prison, “How are you?” The sits down and casually snaps a “I’m fine.” Herzog half-scoffs, “How fine (are you really)?” Delbert recounts how he testified for his son in court and pleaded to the judge not to execute Jason. He blames himself for not being there as a father and never gave his son a chance for a good life.

It’s even romantic at times, the wife of Jason Burkett speaks about how she fell in love with her husband and desires to bear his child, despite that they will not be together for 40 years until he makes parole. She holds a sonogram picture of the baby and that was an unnerving moment. As she held up the picture, I wondered if the child is another seed of criminality. That’s what I saw. I think other people will have different interpretations. The film is dense enough for it.

One of the most chilling moments for me was the interview with Fred Allen, the Captain of the Death House Team in Texas, where the prisoners are brought to be executed. He describes the procedure of taking the patient to be lethally injected and his struggle with keeping the job after lethally injecting 125 convicts. A notepad is shown noting the times of the procedure of Michael Perry’s execution: when he arrived, when he was strapped to the bed, when he was injected and when he passed. That struck me still. I did not have an emotion for that.

Herzog does not narrate as he usually does and I think that was a good aesthetic choice. He only conducts the interviews. Herzog’s own views are implied in the film (he is against the idea of capital punishment), but it’s not as loud of a statement as one would experience in a Michael Moore film. It is unlike Cave of Forgotten Dreams where he needed to answer, “Why the hell are we looking at these caves for 2 hours?”  There is no question of why we need to watch this and Werner Herzog takes a step back from telling us his personal views. The viewer is left to decide how they want to judge the actions Michael Perry and Jason Burkett. Herzog provides no answers, but asks all the right questions.

Why did these three people die for a car? Why did these two kids kill for a joyride? How does death affect a family? How do you live your life knowing that you will be executed next week? Is there any real purpose to executing Michael Perry? After all, it won’t bring them back. Does anyone, including the state, have any right to take a life? Just because the law says so, does that make it right?

At the end, It left me raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I thought about the absurdity and ironies of life. Into the Abyss reflected the human predicament and how as human beings we think we know everything, but we are not even close to understanding ourselves.