Skip to main content

LIGHT SLEEPER

USA, 1991 (MIFF 1992)

Director: Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader is arguably one of the most vital figures of contemporary American cinema. An auteur in the truest sense, his vast body of work as a scriptwriter, director and crit­ic is an incisive exploration of the darker recess­es of the American psyche, gnawing spiritual needs, troubled sexuality and urban frustration.

In Light Sleeper, Schrader returns, quite lit­erally, to characters, places and themes that have filled his best known works. John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) is the quintessential Schrader protagonist: a drifter, a spirit looking for a body to inhabit, nostalgic, but unable to connect with the present. In Taxi Driver this character was angry, in American Gigolo he was narcissistic, but now he's anxious. A courier in a boutique drug business, he is no longer 'in the life' but continues to roam its fringes.

LeTour, like many of his generation, has seen a decade metamorphose. The experimen­tation with drugs has ended with the heinous-ness of crack, sexual liberation has become a struggle for survival, and reform has stagnated in political conservatism.

Like much of Schrader's (best) work, Light Sleeper is not so much plot-driven as it is a study of inner-life. Schrader originally intended to use songs by Bob Dylan, but when that didn't work out, he commissioned Michael Been to compose the lyrical songs that help pro­vide LeTour's 'interior monologue'. Filled with loving cinematic references (most notably Bres­son's Pickpocket) and a brilliantly unstressed performance by Willem Dafoe (all the more remarkable for the fact that he appears in almost every single frame), light Sleeper is not just a work of rare and haunting beauty, but one that presents a provocative and troubling portrait of contemporary lives and times.

See also...

THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS

Something is off balance here, quite intentionally. This quirky, playful psychological thriller - the story of an ordinary English couple lured into the sumptuous home and sinister clutches of a ... More »

BLUE COLLAR

Paul Schrader began as a film critic and went on to write the scripts for Taxi Driver, The Yakuza, and Obsession. This is his directorial debut. ... Zeke, Jerry and Smokey are close friends who work ... More »

HARDCORE

Jake Van Dorn, a deeply religious Midwestern businessman lives a happy life, until his daughter disappears on a trip to Los Angeles. ... He hires a seedy private detective, who finds a sex film in ... More »

THE INLAND SEA

... ... While travelogues have become the joke of film history, there is a wonderfully per­sonal sort of travel film — the memoir or essay — that is still very rare in cinema. In this ... More »

HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE

Like Gone With The Wind, Cleopatra and Heaven's Gate, Apocalypse Now had one of the most troubled shoots in cinematic lore. Eleanor Coppola had been on most of her husband's previous shoots, but for ... More »

The Mountain

For many centuries elopement in the Middle East has been the only alternative for women who object to pre-arranged marriage. If the woman is caught while eloping, she is either brought back home, or ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director