IV: On Sleeping Through Movies (1)

by Jessica Winter

Falling asleep at the movies may seem like a passive-aggressive act against the work in question: the response as lack-of-response, the dozer’s head jerking forward and back in nodding rejection of the cinema product. Under the right circumstances, though, it’s an indicator that the sleepwatcher is deeply, palpably inside a well-maintained dream machine—she’s falling into a movie, not out of it. Straight off a plane with my time zones jumbled, I conked out for almost the entire run-time of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s witch-hunting tragedy Day of Wrath, jolting awake just in time to see old woman Marte tied to the stake and toppling into the flames. I watched the whole thing on DVD later, but that screaming shock-cut remains the eidetic, definitive experience of the film. David Lynch’s Inland Empire was similarly concussive: I gasped awake to an extreme close-up of strobe-spangled Laura Dern, her smear of red mouth pulled into a rictus of disgusted terror. She and I enacted the quintessential morning-after nightmare: waking up next to a total stranger.

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Jessica Winter is a writer in New York.

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