On the Mount Rushmore of cokeheads, Paul Schrader is between Dennis Hopper and Phil Specter (along with Stevie Nicks of course). Which is why I was excited to see Light Sleeper available to watch on Amazon Prime.
It’s definitely not a perfect film. Willem Dafoe plays an aging drug delivery boy employed by Susan Sarandon who runs into an ex flame which leads him to shoot up a hotel room (we’ve all been there). It’s a movie that should have been fleshed out more. The climax (the shooting up of a hotel room) didn’t quite pay off, and the sudden romantic interest between Sarandon and Dafoe in the end was odd, but there’s a lot of other things going for the film.
The sanitation strike, which played in the background and was often juxtaposed against the high class NYC lifestyle, was a nice touch. But the desperation of Dafoe’s character is absolutely heartbreaking.
I get what that’s about.
Dafoe is aimless. He wanted to be an actor, model, musician, and writer. His best years were spent strung out on drugs. Now he’s 40 and lacks focus.
Subtlety, Sarandon is in a similar position. She plays the boss but she knows the gravy train is about to leave the station. She thinks she’s some NYC hotshot, but by looking at her shitty apartment, she’s probably on the outside looking in.
Now that I type that out, suddenly Dafoe and Sarandon’s abrupt romantic interest becomes apparent: they’re both losers and now they have to settle for each other.
The soundtrack is incredible, for both good and bad reasons. The music itself is great. Where it goes off the rails is the damn singing. The visuals are powerful enough that you don’t need to be told how Dafoe’s character is feeling. Anybody could have written those lyrics. For example (in the style mimicking Bruce Springsteen):
I am walking down the street at night
I run into my ex girlfriend
We get into a little fight
I feel so sad that I just might
Stalk her at her mom’s funeral
Then she gets sad as well
Then we reconnect and start to kiss
She complements my erection
Then she tells me that she’s sopping wet
So we fuck all night then tells me to leave
Then I find out she’s back on drugs
Then she jumps out a window to her death
So I buy a gun from Puerto Rican man
Then I ride in limo with Susan Sarandon
Then I shoot up a hotel room
(Lyrics by Michael Been)
Despite all of that, this is a nice forgotten gem from the mind of Paul Schrader.