Sleeper (1973)

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All right, so Sleeper has a lot of similarities to Bananas.  It’s like a film competition in which they gave you the same basic story structure and you have to adapt in a way that excites you.

The story begins in the year 2173 when a group of scientists decide to wake up Miles (Woody Allen) who has been frozen for 200 years.  It turns out Miles didn’t agree to this voluntarily.  He went in for a routine procedure, and next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a sterile future world in which he’s a pawn between two forces.

He is woken up by the rebels who want to use him as a spy to figure out what the Aries Project is.  Miles is the best man for the job because he has no “biometric” identity since he’s been frozen for so long.

Miles is quickly on the run from the police, and in a long sequence he must pretend to be a robot butler working for Luna (Diane Keaton).

She discovers who he is, and Miles kidnaps her and goes back on the run.  They begin to fall in love, but Miles is captured and brainwashed while Luna joins the rebellion.  After a few months Miles is kidnapped by the rebellion and they try to undue all the brainwashing.  He remembers who he is, but then he gets jealous when he finds Luna kissing the rebel leader, Erno.

Miles and Luna together then work to uncover the truth behind the Aries Project.  It turns out the society’s leader was killed 10 months previous, and they want to clone him from his nose, which is all they have remaining.  Posing as the doctors who will conduct the cloning process, Miles and Luna take the nose hostage before throwing it under a steam roller as they run away.

Miles and Luna embrace after debating their future together.  Miles tells her that political leaders like Erno will become corrupt, and the cycle will continue.  The film ends with Miles saying he only believes in “sex and death,” a possible allusion to what would become his next film Love and Death.

Notes:

All of these early Woody Allen films fall into the same category.  They’re broad, full of physical comedy often in extended takes, they’re aware of the medium, frequently addressing the camera directly and the plot is loose, in service of the joke.

This would begin with What’s Up, Tiger Lilly (1966) and end with Allen’s next film, Love and Death (1975).

These films show how much of a work ethic Allen had, and how he covered so many different topics and yet always played the same Woody Allen character.  That’s very evident when you look at photos of Allen and his familiar glasses in each film.

By playing the same, neurotic, second-guessing character, it feels like Allen is doing his stand up routine and walking you through different circumstances.  He’s inviting you into not only a period of time or space but his idea of that period of time or space.

This is Allen’s comedic vision of the future.  It’s a future that’s envisioned in many films and television shows.  Everything is white and sterile, people are a bit ridiculous, and society has become too rigid.

Instead of person-to-person sex, there is a sex machine that you enter and exit in a matter of seconds.  This isn’t so ridiculous when you think about the prevalence of internet pornography.

The tv sets are built into the wall, as they are now and were in Ray Bradbury’s vision of the future in Fahrenheit 451.  Then for drugs, Luna’s party guests simply have to touch a metallic orb.  There’s no smoking, injecting, pill-swallowing or sniffing, just touching.  So even the drugs are much less stale and non-obtrusive.  Everything seems to suggest that people are just trying to preserve themselves from any kind of infection, whether it’s the alien (Miles) or love.

When Luna joins the rebellion she does a complete 180 and believes in free love, bouncing between Miles and Erno.

Allen also has a disdain of guns.  He is told that the idea of U.S. states no longer exist because of a war that dealt with nuclear arms.  Then there’s the recurring visual joke of the police lining up a large bazooka to shoot at Miles only for it to explode in their hands each time.  Finally, Miles tells someone that the NRA is an organization for people to shoot unarmed citizens.

The film culminates with Miles pointing a gun at the nose of the society’s leader, saying he’ll shoot if they get too close.  This threat is very effective, and when one guy says he’s bluffing, Miles decides to shoot, except the gun is a toy gun with the cartoonish flag that says “BANG” coming out.

So what else is there to say?  I think I’ve been watching all these early Woody Allen films too close together because they’re all melting together into one long movie.  On the surface they’re all the same: Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *But Were Too Afraid to Ask, and Sleeper.  Love and Death fits into this group as well.

Woody Allen always plays Woody Allen and he deals with people who need enlightenment.  Whether it’s the rebels in Bananas who don’t have a clear plan of what to do once in power, or the inept prison guards in Take the Money and Run or even Luna and the scientists in Sleeper.  Woody tells them how it is.  He might be wrong, but he always tells them honestly how it is to him.  In other words, he’s telling the world how he sees the world and where he fits in it.

Allen is almost always the butt of the joke.  He’s saying that he has trouble fitting in too, and I can see how these films could find an audience of people who feel like they’re on the edge of society.  That’s what Woody Allen is: the fish out of water.

In Take the Money he struggles to be a bank robber because he’s really not a good thief, but he tries nonetheless.  In Bananas he’s just a guy from Brooklyn dealing with heartbreak before being thrown into the revolution in San Marcos.  In Sex he plays an assortment of characters, most famously a sperm cell who’s nervous about the big jump coming up.  Finally in Sleeper he’s forced to wake up 200 years in the future and nothing makes sense.  It even takes him a while to realize how his body functions, as he staggers around eating rubber gloves before becoming fully cognizant.

In another way these movies all laugh at the things that bother his characters.  When one bad thing is solved, another one happens.  That’s what happens in life, it’s all a bit ridiculous even if everyone else is acting like it’s normal.

Up Next: Love and Death (1975)Interiors (1978), Manhattan (1979)

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