Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Sleeper

SLEEPER

(1973)


Notes: United Artists. 88 minutes.
Produced: Jack Grossberg
Directed: Woody Allen
Written: Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
Art Direction: Dianne Wagner
Ragtime Music: Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Miles Monroe: Woody Allen
Luna Schlosser: Diane Keaton
Erno Windt: John Beck
Dr. Melik: Mary Gregory
Dr. Nero: Marya Small
Dr. Orva: Bartlett Robinson
Dr. Dean: Peter Hobbs
Herald Cohen: Brian Avery


Summary: American Federation scientists in 2173 illegally unfreeze 35-year-old Miles Monroe, a health store owner and clarinetist who in 1973, the last he knew, was hospitalized for a peptic ulcer. When the aluminum foil is peeled back, he is a semi-vegetable and the security police of this post-nuclear totalitarian society are suspicious about the power surge. When Miles comes to, he realizes the magnitude of this “cosmic screwing.” 1973 didn’t realize that the healthiest foods include steak, cream pies, and hot fudge. Tobacco is also vindicated. A researcher asks him to identify enigmatic artifacts from his time: pictures of Stalin, Bela Lugosi, Charles DeGaulle, Billy Graham, and videos of Nixon (records of whom have been wiped out) and Howard Cosell (thought to be a method of punishment). Chattering teeth are also involved.

Robots are now the domestic servants. The scientists tell Miles that he has been reanimated so that someone without an identity can find ut about the government’s Aries Project designed to eliminate the underground. The Security Police raid the home and Miles escapes despite jet-pack problems (“cheap Japanese flying-packs!”). The police bazooka backfires.

Miles disguises himself as a robot among other robots in a van. He is dropped off at the home of Luna in time for a party where he accidentally places the guests’ coats in an incinerator and battles a giant instant pudding. Lounging in white beanbag chairs, the guests get high on stroking an orb. Luna later asks one guest why there would be an underground since society has the orb, the telescreen, and the orgasmatron.

Miles is taken into the shop for a head change but escapes, kidnapping Luna to explain his situation and to try to get to the Western District. He steals enormous hydroponic food and sees an enormous chicken. They try to borrow a car from a gay household (including the robot) but Luna secretly rats to the video authorities. After pursuits and another bazooka backfiring, Miles is taken and brainwashed, given clothes made by Jewish robot tailors, and placed in a new home with a computerized dog. Computerized confession is expected in this society, but they still have McDonald’s.

Meanwhile Luna has joined the underground. She and hunky leader Erno kidnap back Miles and try to deprogram him by simulating an overwrought Jewish family meal. Miles turns into Blanche DuBois temporarily.

The plan is for Miles and Luna to sneak into a hospital. The two kvetch constantly but find out that 10 months ago an assassination attempt succeeded in blowing up the Leader except for his nose. A cloning plan will restore him, after which all dissident factions will be eliminated. Miles steals the nose, which gets squashed by a steamroller. A police bazooka backfires and blows up the cop van.

Miles and Luna bicker to the end, him jealous of Erno, the “Prussian, Aryan, Nazi, Nordic type,” her frustrated by his insistence that political solutions don’t work. After a chemical explanation for the failure of the sexes, Miles claims to believe only in sex and death, and death is better because afterwards you don’t feel nauseous.


Commentary: The film has a vague source in H.G. Wells’ When the Sleeper Awakes, but Allen mocks middle-class intellectual ethics of the ’70s. It has an attractive, colorful, homey-humanistic atmosphere, which appropriately softens the totalitarianism in order for the comedy to work. It’s difficult to say that something seems obsolete here —— after all, Nixon not being publicly lynched still needs to be pointed out —— but perhaps we’re no longer visually charmed by the appearance of Woody Allen any more, or the ludicrousness of giant chickens and rampaging puddings has been outdone by more ludicrous realities in the last 27 years.