Not the Disney film. Definitely not the Disney film. This surreal meditation on the fragility of one young woman is a mannered but metaphorically profound film by Australian director Julia Leigh. Don’t expect titillation, as many seem to from a superficial reading of the synopsis; university student Lucy begins work at an exclusive club where wealthy men can spend the night with her while she is drugged asleep.
This is not a conventional narrative. We seem to be following the trajectory of a young woman’s life as she works several menial jobs, attends university lectures, visits a friend, picks up men in bars and struggles with the prickly dynamics of sharing a house with a couple. Answering a newspaper advertisement, she meets Clara and Thomas who assess her beauty and bodily perfection and offer her the chance to earn a lot of money. Lucy is hired to serve food in lingerie at an exclusive, private club where wealthy men and women dine. Soon she is offered more lucrative work, sleeping drugged and naked in an opulent bedroom with a man who can do anything, just no penetration.
What is unconventional is that we are given no background nor context to help us navigate what is happening. Lucy has a strange kind of friendship with Birdmann; when she visits they play some sort of agreed charade but we are left to guess what is behind this dynamic. There are hints and small moments about her mother and her past that imply she is escaping from something, somehow emotionally damaged. She makes odd, impulsive choices, seeming to be driven by a reckless curiosity or an expectation of being hurt.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think there is a deep metaphor behind this story. We are being shown a woman damaged by her past, drifting through her life and looking for risk and pain and danger. Birdmann is the only point in her life where she allows herself to feel anything as he is someone, perhaps, who is as damaged as her. The sleeping and giving over of her power and autonomy to nameless men encapsulates her self-destructive path and I can see how each of these men represent an archetype. It is something that many of us do, turn a blind eye, refuse to see who a person really is, what we really need.
With this metaphor in mind, the final scene becomes more significant. It’s an odd last scene, somehow anticlimactic and I can see that it left many viewers, more used to mainstream films, unsatisfied. For me it was spot on. An ‘aha!’ moment.
This film is not for everyone but if you like to be challenged, to watch a film that is telling you something about the human condition and allowing you to apply it to your own life, then this film is for you.
Bechdel test – pass