Julia Leigh’s `Sleeping Beauty’ is Darker Than Disney but Lighter Than the Fairy Tale’s Origins

“Sleeping Beauty” is the latest cinematic take on the long-established fairy tale. This movie from Jane Campion’s protege Julia Leigh is a dark modern take on that fairy tale that places the story not just within a contemporary setting, but within a contemporary thematic milieu: simulated necrophilia. This beauty is put to sleep with drugs and lies naked on a bed. Men pay for the privilege of doing whatever they desire except for actual intercourse of any kind.

While that may sound rather darker than necessary for an update of a children’s fairy tale, it is well worth keeping in mind that the origins of Sleeping Beauty makes Leigh’s movie almost look like the Disney animated version. By clicking the appropriate link at the bottom of this page, you can read all about how Charles Perrault, not those Grimm brothers, was inspired by earlier folk tales of a girl whose fate began with touching a cursed spinning wheel and ends with children borne of rape being the food of a plot of cannibalistic vengeance.

Much is made of how Disney’s fairy tale animated movies are sometimes rather scary for impressionable kids, but in comparison to the original versions written by authors like those Grimm boys, Perrault and the scribe credited with Sleeping Beauty’s creation, Giambattista Basile, Disney’s heroines actually have it pretty good. The darkest element to the brilliant Disney version of “Sleeping Beauty” is the fact that the studio’s single greatest villain ever, Maleficent, goes completely mental just because she wasn’t invited to the baby’s christening. Think about that: she doesn’t want to make a coat out of Aurora’s skin, she doesn’t want to rule the kingdom and take away Beauty’s voice and she’s not even crazed due to jealousy. She turns the world upside down just because she wasn’t invited to a party! That’s the making of a great villain. That’s what makes Maleficent scarier than Hannibal Lecter.

Bruno Bettelheim, in his book “The Uses of Enchantment,” suggest that the story of Sleeping Beauty is a metaphorical tale of the desire of parents to delay the sexual awakening of their children, especially the desire of fathers to step in and help their daughters avoid the fate of the Curse of Menstruation. While the awakening may be delayed, it can never be prevented, but the ultimate consequences of the delay tactics will almost always backfire. The stunting of sexual maturity will inevitably coincide with the stunting of psychological maturity which results in all manner of complications.

For exactly this reason, one of the most thematically faithful retellings of the Sleeping Beauty story takes place across the three novels that makes up Anne Rice’s trilogy of BDSM books.
If Hollywood really wants to eroticize the story of Sleeping Beauty while staying true to its prototype, Rice’s interpretation is one of the most suggestively faithful sources on the market relative to Sleeping Beauty being the tale of stunted sexual maturity and the consequences of patriarchal fear of the onset of menstruation.

For more articles by Timothy Sexton, check out:

The Dark Origins of Sleeping Beauty

The Persistence of Cannibalism in Fairy Tales

Live Action Fairy Tale Movies: Best, Worst and Overlooked

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