Are you as exhausted as I am? I stayed up the other night for some really dubious reasons involving karaoke, and I slowly started to realize my body isn’t processing these little bursts of fun the way it used to. As a child I would often stay up until at least 1 a.m. reading books, which made it very hard to stay awake the next day, and as an adult I somehow think that if other people can stay up late then I can too.
That feeling has never quite gone away, that competition over sleeplessness. I think I need about nine hours solid in order to process the world correctly, but a few weeks ago I slept for 15 hours in a row, waking once to go to the bathroom then straight back into it again. I did not feel better when I woke up, but I also hadn’t felt like I needed to sleep for that long in the first place. Have you seen that terrifying Lunesta commercial that is nothing but a green butterfly winging around a black screen? That is simultaneously the scariest and most entrancing sleep commercial I’ve ever seen, so hypnotizing I bet you could just watch that commercial looped endlessly and it’d have the same effect as the drugs.
I’m one of the few, lucky people in my life who can fall asleep simply by laying down and closing my eyes. Unfortunately, sleep is also an uncontrollable and combative place, for me. I grind my teeth, press my hands into uncomfortable positions, move around. I’ve never struggled with insomnia, never lain in bed begging myself to fall asleep. In fact, it sometimes feels like I’m fighting sleep in every day life. When all I want to do is fall asleep, my eyes dart back and forth nervously, my head lolls gently, and it gets harder to fight that warm and welcoming feeling with every second that passes.
Fun fact, if you look at it over and over, the word “sleep” will cease to look like a real word and will appear to be some kind of mystical charm, a signet that carries you from one unintelligible realm to another place without borders. I have no doubts that when they finally get around to making a movie of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics that it will blow every other movie about sleep out of the water, but, until then you endless sleepers —
While You Were Sleeping
This may be the most underrated film of the bunch. Sandra Bullock plays a woman who accidentally gets mixed up with a family when there’s a misunderstanding over her relationship to their son, who is in a coma. The jokes are plentiful, the charm is high, Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher are at their best. Yes, technically he’s not asleep, he’s in a coma, but sometimes I get envious of Peter Gallagher, laying there all peacefully while his family storms around him.
The Science of Sleep
Perhaps the least liked of all Michel Gondry’s films finds a man (Gael Garcia Bernal) struggling to separate reality from dreamland when he falls in love with his beautiful neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg). There’s several elements that make this one fascinating, not only the vivid handling of fantasy but the effects that have marked Gondry’s career, including a scene where Bernal’s hands are enormous and terrifying. The plot may be thin but the details and visuals are gossamer, lilting and beautiful.
Sleepless in Seattle
I kind of hate this movie. Sacrilege I know, especially to Ephron completists, however nothing happens in this movie. Two zany people, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, make up a lot of crap in their heads and somehow imagine themselves to be in love. I guess that isn’t that different from regular life, hey-oh. The title refers to Tom Hanks or his son not being able to sleep, which makes it perhaps the only film about not falling asleep.
Julia Leigh’s film revolves around a sordid underworld where beautiful and expensive female prostitutes are drugged and sleep through their conquests. It is as fascinating as it is beautiful, though the power dichotomy could not be more upsetting. Their absolute stupor while drugged looks inviting though the thought of being manhandled while so thoroughly passed out is enough to make the skin crawl. Sleeping Beauty explores one of the most terrifying aspects of sleep, the loss of power that is inevitable when we are rendered unconscious, at the mercy of those around us. Yeah, most of us aren’t being sexed up while unconscious, but it’s the general principle!
You are waiting for a train. That train is filled with pillows and blankies and you will get to sleep for as long as you want without anyone bothering you. When you wake up you can just slip back into unconsciousness. Leonardo DiCaprio leads a team of thieves who infiltrate the mind, but hey, is there really anyone who hasn’t seen this film yet? Perhaps never before has a movie so thoroughly explored the levels of consciousness and depth of the mind, and again, while it’s a rendered state in the film, it plays around with something that seems so inviting, the idea that we could control our dreams or the minds of others, even partially.
The Disney one! Yes, cheesy perhaps and I doubt sincerely you’re going to go out and watch it, but I feel like Princesses were always passing out left and right. Snow White? Yep, ate the apple and got herself a glass coffin. Aurora? Yep, pricked her finger and fell into a deep sleep. In any case, no one’s ever looked more angelic, setting up entire generations of girls and boys to expect women to look perfect while they sleep. Hands folded, hair all in place, perhaps a gentle smile. Aurora drooling and splayed out all over the bed would be more realistic, but fairy tales are already all lies so sleep lies are the least worrisome of the bunch.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy stay up all night, fall in love, fight, make up, and talk talk talk. Look at these young goons, staying up late because of feelings and the fact they might not see each other again. Go to bed already! Whenever I see anyone awake when they should be asleep, it just feels like a waste of precious sleep, as if it were a limited commodity that others would kill for.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Sleep should be a sacred and safe space, restful and welcoming, but helplessness turns to terror as people struggle to stay awake in this horror thriller. A mad man haunts the dreams of teenagers who know that as soon as they fall asleep, they become the prey of the violent Freddy Krueger. Any movie that scares people into not falling asleep should be tried as a criminal offense, but this idea’s so good it’s remarkable that no one has capitalized on it before 1984.
Little Nemo in Slumberland
Fun fact, I thought the movie Finding Nemo was this one for a long time. I really like Little Nemo, the style of the visuals, but this movie is also kind of scary. I haven’t seen it in ages, but no list about sleep related films would be complete without it. A young boy finds solace in his fantasies and the world of Slumberland, but both the waking world and the dreaming may be destroyed. I want a bed to fly around in, that would be just perfect.
This movie featuring the music of the Talking Heads also stars lead man David Byrne, but is included here for the scenes of Swoosie Kurtz laying in bed. A woman so rich she never needs to get out of bed, imagine that. She has all kinds of devices and instruments to make her life easier, and while laying in bed all day might get kind of boring, the idea that beds are not simply for sleeping is taken to extremes here. There’s a kind of beauty in everything being in its right place, and beds are made for sleeping. (And other stuff, but let’s not get tawdry.)
Sleepwalk With Me
With the assistance of “This American Life” star Ira Glass, comedian Mike Birbiglia made a movie about his life-endangering experiences sleepwalking and his everyday life. Terrifying, hilarious and robust, Birbiglia relates stressful relational issues in his life to his burgeoning sleepwalking problems. Nothing is as scary as the idea that we act without knowing, and the thought of uncontrollable and genuine sleepwalking is one of the scariest side effects of sleep, the very opposite of restful.
A bit gauche considering it featured heavily in last week’s list about hitting rock bottom, but this one is mostly all about insomnia and the confusion it causes throughout life. Edward Norton’s face is so gaunt and terrifying, grey and defeated as he jets around the country as an insurance claims adjuster who can’t seem to fall asleep. It’s this heightened state of exhaustion and confusion that leads to one of the biggest breakthroughs in the world — the meeting of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and the descent into a whole new insane way of life, fighting other men to wake up and feel alive.