Sleeper tells the story of a man who, after 200 years of cryogenic suspension, is awakened and finds himself in a totalitarian police state. In this scene, Woody Allen’s character has just been pulled by government agents from his hiding place: an “orgasmatron,” a computerized booth device that provides erotic satisfaction to the user — thus eliminating the need for participation in real sexual activity.
by Pierre de Plume
Woody Allen’s 1973 comedy Sleeper depicts an oddly dystopian utopia. The film further demonstrates that futuristic science fiction also can be funny. In this his fifth effort as director/writer/actor, Allen continues to define his pattern of honoring the traditions of film icons and styles of the past. In this case, these include his incorporation of the trademarks of comedians Bob Hope and Groucho Marx, as well as nods to earlier notables such as Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and even the Keystone Cops — all with a heavy helping of slapstick.
If one conducts a ranking of films by genre, the criteria of high achievement likely includes whether the film enriches or expands its genre. On the one hand, Sleeper has given us entertainment that is reminiscently familiar and pleasantly light in tone. On the other hand, Allen also has utilized the cinematic tools of science fiction to create biting social and political commentary that nevertheless is deceptively simple in its presentation.
Relying significantly on both the dictates and freedoms of science fiction, Allen uses Sleeper to lay bare the comic absurdity of a dystopian society 200 years into the future. But by further tapping into the genre’s potential, Allen also reflects back to a contemporary 1970s society whose values seem to be fragmenting and maybe even devolving: During the time while Sleeper was being written and produced, the world was engulfed in major political and social change. During 1973, the backdrop for Americans was a disintegration of authority and institutions about to tread the wake of the Watergate scandal to the unprecedented resignation of “law and order” president Richard Nixon. (more…)