There is nothing enchanting about this sleeping beauty. Julia Leigh’s haunting film is far from a fairy tale, as it takes you on a journey into the cryptic world of sex, drugs, money and most crooked of all; the mind of a young and confused Australian girl named Lucy, played by Emily Browning.
We know that Lucy goes to school, but we do not know what she studies. We know nothing more about her mother than the fact that she seems to be a financial burden. We know she makes copies in an office, waitresses and lives with roommates who complain about her inability to pay the rent. To the outside world, Lucy appears to be like any other young student trying to make ends meet. Donating her time to science, the film starts out in a very white room in which Lucy has a tube being shoved down her throat quite emphatically. She is choking yet appears to stay perfectly calm and right away you start to wonder: what is it that this girl is after?
Is it money? A thrill? Perhaps she is searching for cure to what seems to be a very empty existence?
One day Lucy answers an ad in her school newspaper. When she arrives at her appointment, you meet Clara played by Rachael Blake, who quite hauntingly plays a Madame as well as mother figure all at once. Clara tells Lucy that she will make $250 an hour, that this should not be a long-term career and explains that no penetration is allowed because, “ your vagina is a temple.” To this, all Lucy says before she casually disrobes is, “ my vagina is not a temple.”
And so it begins.
Arriving at a mansion for a black tie dinner party, Lucy wears a white and gravely provocative lingerie ensemble. She is joining a team of women who are all in black, and her white outfit leads you to wonder, why it is that Julia Leigh’s is trying to distinguish Lucy from the rest of these women?
Quite sexual in nature, the audience witnesses a formal dinner party whose service staff is dressed in high class S&M contour. Two women lay on the ground in what looks to be a yoga child’s pose, and they’re completely naked. This film paints a picture of a kinky world, and Lucy wants in.
It’s not about the money- she literally burns a 100 dollar bill just to watch it blaze. And it’s not sex. After seeing her pick up strange men at a bar, you might assume this young woman has a sex addiction. However, it becomes evident that this is not the case when she begins to continue her rendezvous with Clara by being dubbed the “ sleeping beauty”. Lucy gets drugged at night while men take advantage of her in any way they please. Except, remember, no penetration.
You meet just one friend of Lucy’s. He is called “Birddman” and is played by Ewen Leslie. Not knowing much about their relationship, you do see that Lucy takes care of him. She brings him vodka, as any good friend should. Birddman seems to be the only person who she actually cares about, though you aren’t sure why. He says one sentence that provides just a hint of insight into this dark and convoluted story. “Some people fake their deaths. I’m faking my life.” Maybe that’s why Lucy and him get along so well?
Maybe this was the point of Julia Leigh’s absolutely horrifying yet exquisite film: We are all just faking it. Who knows what kind of sick fantasies the girl sitting next to you in school or at the office is playing out in her mind, or even better; in reality.