Follow TV Tropes


Film / To Sleep with Anger

Go To

To Sleep with Anger is a 1990 drama film written and directed by Charles Burnett.

Gideon (Paul Butler) and Suzie (Mary Alice) are a married couple and the heads of a black family that lives in South Central Los Angeles. They have two sons, Junior (Carl Lumbly) and Samuel (Richard Brooks), the latter almost always called "Babe Brother". The sons are quite different: Junior is a sober, responsible husband and father while Samuel is thoughtless and self-centered; early in the movie he tells a transparent lie when his father calls him out for missing his mother's birthday.

Into their lives comes Harry (Danny Glover), an old friend of more than thirty years ago of Gideon and Suzie's, back when they were young and growing up in the South. Despite not having seen him in decades, Gideon and Suzie cheerfully welcome Harry into their home and invite Harry the semi-vagabond to stay as long as he likes. However, despite his charming and courteous manner, Harry soon starts to bring stress and disturbance into the lives of the family that took him in.


  • Black Comedy: Harry dies on the kitchen floor and the family has to wait for the coroner's office to come and take him away. So an entire scene has him lying on the floor covered in a sheet while people come in and out of the house.
  • Disturbed Doves: Junior's son Sunny keeps pigeons. A bunch of them fly off when the Dreadful Musician neighbor starts blowing away on his trumpet.
  • Dreadful Musician: A neighbor boy plays the trumpet hideously badly. People in the street cover their ears.
  • Dream Sequence: Opens with Gideon having a strange dream in which his shoes are on fire.
  • Empathic Environment: The final violent confrontation between Samuel and Junior happens as a thunderstorm is raging outside.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Almost word for word. Gideon has taken ill and is bedridden. Gideon's friend and Suzie's old admirer Okra stops by to visit. Gideon isn't even dead yet but Okra makes a very ill-considered proposal to marry Suzie if she's widowed. A stone-faced Suzie gets up from the table and says "Excuse me. I need to go feed my dog."
  • Magical Realism: Eventually it becomes clear that Harry is some sort of agent of chaos, or maybe even a demon, who by his presence causes disruption and conflict among the family. He has an odd A Storm Is Coming arrival. Pat's unborn baby jerks and kicks when Harry shakes her hand. He has a bunch of buddies that seem to sort of show up out of nowhere to further irritate his hosts (a neighbor speaks pointedly of Harry's "resurrected friends"). Gideon winds up bedridden, in a sort of coma, for no discernible reason—and when Harry finally dies Gideon promptly wakes up and gets out of bed. There's also something mystic happening when a shattered jug marks Harry's arrival, and a jar of marbles getting knocked over and shattering is immediately followed by Harry's death.
  • Match Cut: A shot of Gideon wearing fancy shoes, which are on fire, cuts to a shot of Gideon in his bare feet on the front lawn, as he wakes up after having dozed off.
  • Meaningful Rename: A significant theme of the film is "Babe Brother" refusing to grow up and take adult responsibility. In the last scene his wife is finally addressing him as "Samuel".
  • Monochrome Casting: The only non-black speaking parts in the movie are three minor roles: the receptionist at the hospital (a white woman) and the EMTs who try and fail to revive Harry (one white, one Asian).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Junior is only ever called Junior, presumably to differentiate him from his father. Even stranger, his younger brother is never called Samuel in the film but is actually always called "Babe" or "Babe Brother". His wife even calls him "Babe". He doesn't like it.
    Samuel: My name is Samuel!
  • Running Gag Stumbles: A Running Gag throughout the film involves the boy in the house across the street playing a trumpet very very very badly, irritating the whole neighborhood. But right at the end, suddenly the boy starts playing his trumpet on key, beautifully, seemingly symbolizing the family conquering its demons—and the credits roll.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Harry's arrival is preceded by a strange gust of wind in the house, which blows over a broom. The broom knocks over a pitcher which falls to the floor and shatters.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Harry long overstays his welcome, worming himself into the household and disturbing the whole family, causing buried tensions to erupt. But somehow, his very presence brings the family closer together.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Samuel is aware that Gideon does not approve of his lack of religious faith and does not approve of his focus on his career at the expense of Sunny. Samuel especially chafes whenever Gideon compares him unfavorably to Junior.
  • Would Hit a Girl: The tension between Samuel and Linda reaches a breaking point when she reaches in to the stove where he's cooking, he lashes out to push her away, and he accidentally hits her in the face. She promptly leaves the house.