There is a point to Julia Leigh’s debut film Sleeping Beauty. There has to be. It can’t be just an arthousey endeavor or a vehicle for Emily Browning to completely expose herself in. Or can it? Whatever it is, Leigh takes the viewer on a cold and calculating, slow ride into the worlds of a girl who is desensitized to true human contact and one where girls like this are used as playthings by rich, old and private men.
From what I gather, Lucy (Browning) isn’t a bad girl. She’s just, well, she’s just a girl trying to get by. She goes to the university and works two jobs to pay the rent that she never seems to be able to pay. But maybe she is a sexual deviant. On second thought, that’s a bit harsh (many women have aggressive sexual appetites), but one thing is for sure, Lucy is, at a minimum, emotionally stunted. She has no personal friends, save for a guy named Birdmann (Ewen Leslie), a recovering drug addict, which we’re led to believe Lucy may be too. She has no relationship with her parents, save for her mom, who we’re led to believe Lucy in some way supports monetarily. She has no boyfriend either; Lucy prefers anonymous sex — sometimes for the money, sometimes for the thrill.
This leads to the underground world of secret dinners for rich men served by lingerie wearing prostitutes and, in the most twisted and disturbing take on the fairy tale, “sleeping beauty” molestation evenings in which a girl is a drugged into unconsciousness and fondled for cash. It’s eye opening creepy and Emily Browning needs to be commended for putting herself out there — completely — and pulling it off. Her role is one devoid of any emotion — a living, breathing zombie, if you will. It’s a very thought provoking piece of acting moving from one off-putting set piece to the next and acting as if there is nothing strange, dangerous or truly fucked up about it. And at no time does her character discuss or whine about her station in life, she just carries on, living out, what our eyes can only conclude, a miserable, lonely existence.
Unfortunately, with this glimpse into this perverse and sad world, the viewer is offered no climax (literally) — Sleeping Beauty just is for 93 long, arduous minutes. Lucy doesn’t grow, unless her desire to see what happens to her while in a comatose state can be construed as growth. She ain’t missing anything (and neither would we had these scenes but cut) — the three old guys we happen upon with her can’t muster much in the manliness department. One guy tries to toss her around like a rag doll, another monologues incessantly and caresses her like a puppy dog, and the other, well let’s just say he angrily overcompensates for his lack of bravado.
Leigh (who is also responsible for the screenplay) overcompensates too; near every scene is shot with long, slow pans, an obvious effort to imbue dramatic flair and a sense of worth to her film. The muted color palette, however, is actually a plus; I imagine it is the way Lucy sees the world around her — hazy browns, yellows, whites and institutionalized.
But it all comes back to, “What’s the point?” Lucy is a sex toy and she accepts it. Hell, she revels in it more often than not. I felt absolutely no sympathy for her and neither will you. If, by chance, watching a movie that objectifies women is on the docket, watch the infinitely better, albeit just as confusing, Eyes Wide Shut instead.