You might wonder why I’m deciding to talk about Vadim Glowna’s The House of the Sleeping Beauties, a film which you probably haven’t heard of (I hadn’t until last night,) you probably will not see, and has very little effect on our pop culture. Critics, on the whole, despised it. My friends nearly fell asleep during it. I must admit that it succeeds so well in being utterly unlikeable without analysis that it doesn’t need a cultural critic to tackle it further.
Nevertheless, I cannot resist. Glowna, in making this movie, seems to think it’s okay to have women suffer humiliation and sexual abuse all in the name of being a symbol of youth. He thinks that he can dodge moral questions about the way women are being used in his film in the name of “high art.” And I just have to call Glowna out on it.
The House of the Sleeping Beauties tells the story of a man in his mid-60’s named Edmund, who has seen his life as a pit of emptiness and despair ever since the death (suicide?) of his wife and young daughter. His friend Kogi, recommends that he visits a strange not-brothel in which old men can sleep next to beautiful young women. The women have been put to sleep with a drug so potent that nothing can wake them until the drug has run its course, and they will remember nothing of the night.
Of course, the clients are not supposed to do anything besides sleep next to the women, cuddled up to them. But that whole “won’t remember anything bit” proves to be too tempting, at least for Edmund (who has the audacity to insist that he is different from the other old men who frequent the establishment.) He spanks them. He shakes them. He suckles their breasts (“You smell like milk…”). He fondles their vaginae, justifying it with the ridiculous excuse that their apparent arousal is equivalent to consent. And, at one point, when one of the women rolls over to face him, he calls it “an invitation,” and takes her virginity. All the while, the women lie there, prone, naked, and very asleep.
Glowna does not seem to have a problem with this. If he does, he does not see it as being important enough for the film to even address. As Edmund waxes philosophical about his past, his approaching death, and his Oedipal Complex, he never ever wonders if what he’s doing might be sexual harassment. The film itself never judges him for it. I sat there, waiting for the film to even reference its most obvious issue. And it never does. Somehow this film thinks the fact that the women won’t remember a thing justifies sexual abuse and rape.
Instead, Glowna seems to think that a pretense of art and poetry can transform the ugliness of the situation into something beautiful and erotic.
When an old man touches a woman like this, it is a lamentation, nothing more.
This line sums up the fundamental flaw in the film’s logic: Just because the caress may have transcended beyond the sexual to Edmund does not actually mean that it has actually transcended beyond the sexual. I feel absolutely ridiculous having to write this next sentence, but: Just because a woman is asleep does not suddenly relieve her of her personhood. I don’t care if it’s a movie. I don’t care if Glowna symbolically plastered the film with paintings of naked women (The models were awake while being painted, and consented to be painted. A painting, on the other hand, is not a real women.) as if to try and move the sleeping beauties from the realm of mortality and into the realm of art. He’s done them no favors. No one can use a real, breathing person as a symbol or as a work of art and expect the audience to forget that s/he is human. Yet, for some reason I cannot fathom, Glowna thinks he can. Rape, by any other name, is still rape.