Written and directed by Paul Schrader. USA. 1992.

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How do you live in a city? That seems to be one question that haunts Paul Schrader. Here we are not given the pornographic gutters of Taxi Driver but the city is still presented as being a place that can't deal with its real, and metaphorical, garbage. 

John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) is an up-market drug courier who has reached a mid-life crisis. Everybody he knows has been ruined by drugs; even though he has kicked the habit he can't give up his profession. His boss, Ann (Susan Sarandon) is planning to launch a cosmetics business but John isn't interested in this project. Cosmetics might hide the psychological scars but they don't solve them. He looks desperately for something else, without much hope. 

There is a tone of sombre despair throughout the film. This reflects Paul Schrader's own attitude to drugs, sexuality and politics. When going through a mid-life crisis similar to that experienced by LeTour he realised that political action had led to terrorism, sexual liberation led to aids, and drugs that promised the opening of the doors of perception led to crack. Obviously these are the musings of someone who hoped the 1960s counter-culture would change the world for the better not for the worst. 

The characters in Light Sleeper are superstitious. Rather than psychoanalysis they have their auras read by psychic readers and Ann readily accepts the fact that LeTour wants to get his "lucky jacket". For them drugs were part of a more glamorous lifestyle, now they are just a way of making money from sophisticated tourists and those who cling to drugs for some form of escape and salvation. The film isn't totally downbeat, indeed it has several humorous lines, and it is touching to see LeTour trying to get his clients to reduce their intake. As Ann says people just want to talk, they are really lonely and isolated. This also applies to LeTour who can only put his innermost thoughts in his diary -itself an act that shows he has given up wanting to be a drug dealer. 

Schrader is aware that dealers like LeTour are always on the alert for danger, and it can easily tap them on the shoulder at any time. LeTour meets his ‘bad luck’ in the form of a chance encounter with his former lover, Marianne (Dana Delany). He wants to renew their relationship but she rejects him, because she associates him with her former life of drugs and death. John is just clutching at straws in the wind. Finally, she falls actually and metaphorically from grace. 

Light Sleeper is an intelligent look at people trying to cope with change. Drugs, and their New Age beliefs keep them in a ‘light sleep’ but in the end they have to face-up to the fact that they are responsible. It is spoilt by the rich Swiss drug user (why do unremittingly evil people in Hollywood films have to be foreigners?), and the epilogue (very much like that in Taxi Driver) is spoilt by the happy ending. 

Nigel Watson
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