Sleeping Beauty is an Australian erotic drama film written and directed by author Julia Leigh in her directorial debut, and starring Emily Browning. The film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the first Australian film in competition since Moulin Rouge!, and was released in Australia in June of that year before getting a limited American release in December.
Lucy (Browning) is a young university student. Her time is split between three jobs to pay tuition and rent — daytime work in an office, evening work in a restaurant, and occasional work as a research subject — on top of being the caretaker of an alcoholic. However, she still struggles to make ends meet, driving her to answer an ad in the school newspaper promising more short-term work which leads her down a rabbit hole of surreal interactions.
Leigh reportedly based the film on a multitude of inspirations including Yasunari Kawabata's House of the Sleeping Beauties, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores, the eponymous fairytales by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm, and her own experiences with dreams. The Kawabata novel was previously adapted into a German film, House of the Sleeping Beauties.
Definitely, definitely not to be confused with the Disney film of the same name.
This film provides examples of:
- The Alcoholic: Birdmann may qualify, if pouring vodka in his cereal rather than milk is any indication.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Considering how much of Lucy's identity in the film is defined by eroticism, it hardly seems a coincidence that her work as a research subject consists of having a long tube with a bulbous end shoved down her throat.
- Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Pointing out the downsides and harmful consequences to this trope is practically the entire point of the film. Notably, in this case, there are supposed to be "rules" with how the clients interact with the main character: the clients are allowed to do whatever they want with the main character's body while she's sedated, with the stipulation that they cannot leave any marks on her and cannot penetrate her (though this goes disturbingly unspecified).
- Fan Disservice: Emily Browning's body spends the majority of the film depicted in various states of undress, including full nudity, but with the alien nature of the environments she's in, the overall effect is far more disturbing than titillating.
- Gainax Ending: The first man we see Lucy sleep with returns for another session, but Clara puts a larger dose of sedative in the drink she gives him. The following morning, Clara checks on the two to find that they have overdosed; the man has died, but Lucy is revived by Clara with mouth-to-mouth. After a moment's pause, she begins screaming in despair and hitting the bed frame. The film then abruptly transitions to the footage captured by Lucy's hidden camera, showing her and the man sleeping in bed together. Fade to black. Roll credits.
- Heroic BSoD: The film ends with Lucy screaming after being awoken by Clara next to what she discovers is the dead body of a male client — it's the most emotion we see from her the entire film. Whether she's screaming from the horror of waking up next to a corpse or the implications that he may have taken advantage of her, or expressing her pain from the events of the whole film, is left undefined.
- Male Frontal Nudity: Several of the older men Lucy sleeps alongside are depicted full-frontal as they strip naked.
- Nothing Is Scarier: There is no explanation given for why the service Lucy works for exists, why it specializes in what it does, and what personal fulfillment the male clients — and the female workers, for that matter — get from it. In that sense, the audience is just as in the dark as Lucy.
- The film notably cuts away from the older men as they interact with Lucy when she's unconscious. Although the only rule they're given is to not penetrate the women they sleep alongside, some of the men take it as a suggestion and not a command, as we see one man making aggressive sexual advances on Lucy while vowing to rape her. The extents of what happens between Lucy and the men who interact with her are never shown, and it's never made clear whether they just wanted to sleep next to her or had darker intents...
- Platonic Life-Partners: Lucy and Birdmann, though Birdmann seems to wish things were less platonic.
- She's Got Legs: Lucy invokes this in all of her outfits.
- Spy Cam: Lucy buys one from an electronics store after she gets fired from her office job. It comes into use towards the end, when she smuggles it into the room of her sessions by storing it in her mouth and uses it to film her next encounter. However, it ends up having no real effect rather than making for the film's final image.
- Unproblematic Prostitution: Lucy tries to invoke this.