Sleeping Beauty

The most crucial piece of a film is the story. If the foundation for the film is flimsy, there is only so much that can be achieved from good acting or special effects. This story must also be attractive enough that it won’t scare people away; such is the unfortunate case with Sleeping Beauty.


On the outside – as well as the way it was marketed – Sleeping Beauty is a disturbing look into a college student’s decision to work in the specialty model business, and subsequently an unorthodox form of prostitution. Lucy (Emily Browning) is struggling financially to stay afloat as she maintains relationships and attends classes. From the beginning, we see her work, go to class, work, work and sleep for a bit. Eventually, she stumbles upon an ad for what we discover to be a lingerie model position. This type of model, though, wears skimpy, revealing outfits at “classy” dinner parties or other soirees thrown by the rich and secretive. As she is pushed out of her home, she dives even deeper into this line of work and becomes a “sleeping beauty” (not coined in the film, but I have to call it something) for clients to utilize at their discretion.

If this does not sound appealing to you, get in line. We are dealing with highly disturbing content, and the only reason I watched it was to see how the story was portrayed. In the end, Sleeping Beauty is as intriguing as it is creepy – make of that what you will. Director/writer Julia Leigh blatantly had a plan for this film since each and every scene is succinct and to the point. There is no chance for a “filler” scene with frivolous dialog or eye-popping visuals. Everything is deliberate and chosen for a purpose to expose more of Lucy’s hidden personality. In this way, Beauty is somewhat genius as it plays out almost like a novel on-screen. You are forced to be engaged with the story and follow along to discern what keeps Lucy going down such a demeaning path, even if you don’t care for Lucy.

Here is where we reach the underbelly of the film. Lucy, played with an eerie stoicism by Browning, treats everything as a means to get a quick buck. Apart from her numerous jobs, we see her treatment of her own body outside the modeling job. Multiple times we see her at one particular bar basically waiting for anyone to approach her about drugs or sex and seemingly has no filtering process on whom to choose. When all is said and done, this ends up being closer to prostitution than her actual job considering there is a strict rule of no penetration set by Clara (Rachael Blake), her “madam” you could say.

The biggest issue that arises in Beauty is purpose. With an open ending, Sleeping Beauty simply ends. We don’t even get a full glimpse into Lucy’s mindset before the final fade to black. Of the multiple themes presented (and somewhat ignored), the most prominent in my mind is the issue of power. Lucy has no control over her financial issues, so how can she gain that control back other than using her body? She can’t find an answer so she has her bar nights, and uses her most lucrative asset. When offered the model job all she heard was the salary, not Clara explicitly stating that this is not to be made a career, simply a means. Lucy, also, has a relationship with Birdmann, which is never fully explained, but serves as her main moments of weakness and only opportunity to be in the power position.

This is not your Walt Disney Sleeping Beauty by any stretch of the imagination. There are depths to Lucy’s character that are consistently difficult to figure out and probably require more than one viewing (believe me, there is plenty more to discuss, such as the clients, but I don’t want you stuck here reading all day). Yet, this is all completely irrelevant if you cannot stomach such a disturbing plot. If you are curious, it’s actually worth it, otherwise steer clear.


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