Lucy is a student and a working girl who is trying to make ends meet with two jobs, being part of a medical research and helping a dying man. She also takes some time off for happy hour and the occasional drug and sex with strangers. Nothing to be proud of but nothing to be ashamed of either. As her landlords harass her with the rent, she stumbles upon and add for girl services given to older men who have already lost the energy to be sexually active but still have their urges (and hidden fetishes). The job is to be induced into a sort of “coma” (she won’t even be able to have dreams) and let the clients do anything they want (except penetration) while they gently sleep. She is given a nickname (Sarah).
What comes next is director Julie Leigh’s carte blanche to let us peek at what happens in this very private room, a delicate mix of a kubrickian order and structure and Lynchian facade of the macabre. So we get the same privileges of the clients (minus the actual physical contact, of course). This is a very interesting position to be in as an audience because we will see that these clients have been given the opportunity to release their fantasies as long as they don’t actually have sexual intercourse. We are witnesses of their struggle with the impotence of their bodies and of the situation itself, which in turn, brings them face to face with their imminent death. While we, as spectators, are giving the tool of imagination, and can fill in the gaps with our own secret desires. Leigh’s film is an interesting experiment on the audience. Apart from the little fetishes of burning the virginal skin with a cigarette or carrying (and then dropping) the “psychologically” lifeless body depicted by some of the clients, we are left with nothing more, when the actual implications of having a naked porcelained-skin girl at our disposition can be very perverse. We are sharing the clients secret desires and becoming clients ourselves the same way Hitchcock made us criminals rooting for Norman Bates to escape being caught or for the grandiose exit of Hannibal Lecter in Demme’s Silence of the Lambs. Let’s say this film ignite the audience’s imagination the same way radio programs did back in the day.
Then, the second important realisation kicks in. Lucy/Sarah is having some issues with the hours that don’t belong to herself. She is a very self conscious independent girl, but suddenly she is giving herself away. Yes, she is a prostitute (in the sense that she is selling her body for money), but she doesn’t participate in it. She can’t even have dreams, so she is being paid only to lay there, as a corpse, completely unaware of the fact that she is at the mercy of a total stranger. This realisation is underlined in the scene where she sits near a sleeping woman on a train and dries her lips. The woman will never know that someone she will never meet has touched her, has done something to her. Lucy needs to know what happens while she is unconscious.
So, what really happens in that room? I’ll leave it to your imagination, the same way Julie Leigh does.
Sleeping beauty confronts the sexual impossibility of our society and its political influence over our ignorance and immobility with the surreal concept of time: the time when Lucy is not conscious and surrenders herself to other’s will, the time that becomes a burden and that is running out from the clients.
As a first-timer, Julie Leigh displays a very particular way of presenting each frame. The characters are usually in the central are with the details of their bodies exposed as if this was a 3D film. There is a scene where Lucy is half naked, being inspected by her future bosses. She is in front of the audience, exposing herself to us, while her expressions are of boredom and even disdain. I always had the feeling that she was the one in control and that her superiors were merely employees. Julie’s structure of the spaces is very balanced, almost flat in the colour palette, giving the impression that we are in front of a stage. In any case, we get a sense of being close to the story, almost as if we were participating, but at the same time we are immobile on this side of the screen, watching through a one side mirror. That is a conscious voyeur feeling that just a few good films have been able to elicit.