After a storm of controversy at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, many people will surely be moved to see Sleeping Beauty but it is certainly not a film to suit all tastes. Far from our childhood fairytale, Sleeping Beauty is a bizarre and disturbing journey with no signature happy ending.
Emily Browning is excellent as University student – Lucy, and we learn from the film’s opening that she is prepared to perform any nature of task for money. For those with a weak stomach it may be wise to arrive late, as we see Lucy have a tube forced into her throat as part of medical research. It is this motivation for money that eventually draws her into a mysterious hidden world of unspoken desires.
A new and confronting role for Browning, she notes that she was initially frightened at the prospect of working on the film: “Reading the first scene gave me a panic attack and I thought if something can make me feel that much, I have to be part of it.”
Rachel Blake plays mistress Clara who, after time, promotes Lucy to the position of a ‘Sleeping Beauty’. In the Sleeping Beauty Chamber old men seek an erotic experience that requires Lucy’s absolute submission. “You will go to sleep: you will wake up. It will be as if those hours never existed,” she’s told. This unsettling task starts to bleed into Lucy’s daily life and she develops an increasing need to know what happens to her when she is asleep.
The audience, unlike Lucy, is more than aware of what takes place during these encounters. What we see and hear is more disturbing than it is visually confronting, apart from the high levels of nudity of all involved, particularly Browning. Though, this is not the factor that disappointed me. In a film dealing with such heavy subject matter – the idea of innocence and purity, and the misery of the human condition – there was a distinct lack of emotion.
The cinematographic elements of the movie are stunning – with excellent use of silence and natural sounds, and beautiful white visuals throughout. This in itself makes the film worth watching. In fact, it’s probably worth watching just to make a personal assessment and see what all the fuss is about.