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Film / Light Sleeper

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Light Sleeper is a 1992 film written and directed by Paul Schrader.

John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) is a 40-year-old drug dealer in New York, who delivers drugs for his boss and old friend, Ann (Susan Sarandon). They specialize in dealing to upscale clients, like the diplomats that are arriving in New York for a UN conference. Both Ann and John are thinking that they need to go straight; John worries about what he will do in the future while Ann is starting a cosmetics business.

While out delivering drugs on the streets of New York, John meets his old girlfriend and common-law wife, Marianne (Dana Delany). Marianne and John were drug addicts together back in the day, and Marianne, four years sober, is reluctant to associate with anyone from her old life. But after John finds out that Marianne's mother is dying, he goes to the hospital, and meets Marianne again. Meanwhile, a young woman has been found dead of an overdose in the park, and one of Ann's associates, a considerably less polite drug dealer named Tis (Victor Garber), may be involved.


Sam Rockwell appears as a junior drug dealer. David Spade pops up in one scene as a young man who likes to talk about God when he gets high.


  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Completely inverted. So polite a drug dealer is John that when he finds one of his clients such a haggard mess that the client is trying to barter his possessions to John for drugs, John refuses to sell. Instead, he calls the client's brother and asks him to come pick the client up.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's never really clarified whether Marianne jumped out that window, or she was murdered.
  • As You Know: Marianne and John telling each other about how they got married in some sort of New Age ceremony that may or may not have been valid.
  • Bittersweet Ending: John is arrested for killing Tis and his goons and sent to prison, but he gets a reduced sentence for having cooperated with the police, and he's finally started thinking about the future, while Ann finally starts her cosmetic business and promises to wait for him to be released.
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  • Boom, Headshot!: John shoots Tis in the head during the climactic shoot-out.
  • Driven to Suicide: Marianne, maybe.
  • Foreshadowing: Jealous (Sam Rockwell) makes an offhand comment about a young woman who was found dead of an overdose in the park. This soon becomes crucial to the plot as Tis, a close associate of John and Ann, is the one who gave the woman the drugs she OD'd with.
  • Hero Antagonist: Radone is a cop investigating the death of a co-Ed who overdosed on drugs and cracking down on mid-level drug dealers to accomplish this. However, he's fairly unsympathetic, being prone to throwing his weight around and roughing up suspects.
  • Lack of Empathy: Tis shows absolutely no remorse for causing a woman to OD or Marianne's death, finding it more mildly annoying than anything else.
  • Leg Focus: In Susan Sarandon's first scene she is positioned sideways on a couch in a way to show off her stocking-clad legs.
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Marianne. She tells John she can't associate with him. Then after they meet again she takes him back to her place for sex. Then the morning after she says that they can't see each other again.
  • Maybe Ever After: The film ends with Ann visiting John in prison. They clasp hands as he tells her that he looks forward to making love to her after he gets out.
  • Nice Guy: John, surprisingly enough. He's always polite and soft-spoken, and he has enough compassion to cut his clients off when their addictions get too self-destructive.
  • Perfumigation: Marianne, Marianne's sister, and Ann all make comments about John's pungent cologne.
    Ann: You have cologne on? It smells like that stuff they give you on an airplane.
  • Police Brutality: Radone slams John into a shop window hard enough to crack the glass.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: John, Ann, and Robert are drug dealers, but they're all generally amiable and polite. John even cuts a client off from their drugs after seeing how self-destructive his addiction is getting.
  • Redemption Rejection: Robert initially joins Ann in her cosmetics company, but he eventually abandons it and goes back to drug dealing because it makes more money. It's subtly implied Ann would have done the same thing had the police's knowledge if her operation not forced her to stay on the straight and narrow.
  • Smug Snake: Bill Radone, who clearly enjoys the authority being a cop grants him way too much. He smugly mocks John and roughs him up with no provocation just to make it clear that it's only by Radone's will he doesn't go straight to jail.
  • Table Space: Used in the scene where Marianne and John are talking in a hospital cafeteria. They are shown reminiscing about their past on opposite sides of a small table. But when the discussion gets more contentious, as Marianne says she can't associate with John, the scene cuts from the opposite perspective. This angle shows a support column between the two of them, symbolizing their separation.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: John does this a lot after Marianne's death. He's huddled up in the fetal position of his apartment, staring emptily into space, as the radio reports the news of Marianne falling out of a window.
  • True Companions: John expresses this to Ann when she worries what her future will hold if she leaves the drug business.
    John: You want me, just call. Write a letter. Tell a wino. I'll be there.
  • Voiceover Letter: Essentially the same dynamic, as John's voice is heard over the soundtrack as he writes entries in a diary at night.