Sometimes disbelief can only be suspended so much.
I hate when moviegoers chide whatever Hollywood outing they see before them because of meaningless minutiae. The people who give Batman movies crap when they don’t show who constructed the Batcave. The folks who get FURIOUSLY angry when Kitty Pryde just happens to have…time travel psychic powers? Anyone who has ANY problem with the Back to the Future trilogy.
To me, those audience members are missing the whole point of going to the movies: escapism. We’re trying to get away from the real world when the lights go down, and if you’re too busy bitching about the plausibility of Toy Story 3, just stay home.
But there was always one movie that I couldn’t quite shake. One premise that always sang a sour note in an overall positive world of cinema symphonies. One film that was cute at first, odd when you really thought about it, and terrifying when you realized what it really meant.
Pour yourself some black coffee and stay awake with me, Unrealtors, because you don’t want to know the horrors of what might happen…while you were sleeping.
The mid 90s yielded interesting harvest of romantic comedies that actually transcended the usual comedy schlock that dominated the field and instead produced some genuinely quality flicks. Sleepless in Seattle, Michael, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and others helped make your typical movie date night transcend from tiresome and boring to legitimately fun and funny.
It was a romcom renaissance and it seemed you couldn’t go a week without Andie MacDowell, Meg Ryan, or Tom Hanks looking sassy on the poster in front of the theater. But there was one film in particular that showed up, made one metric shit-ton of cash, and quietly exited stage left without anyone realizing just what exactly they had seen.
That film was While You Were Sleeping and today I’m here to violently shake it conscious and make it confess.
If you happened to be…sleeping…and missed this one, here’s a quick recap. Sandra Bullock plays Lucy, a Chicago metro worker who has a crush on a regular commuter, Peter. On Christmas Day, Peter is mugged and pushed onto the tracks and Lucy dashes to his rescue, pulling him away from an oncoming train, and accompanying him to the hospital.
Peter falls into a coma and through a confluence of wacky, Peter’s family is led to believe that Lucy is actually Peter’s fiancé that he never told them about. While in the coma, Lucy gets to know Peter’s family who all grow closer due to Lucy’s presence, Peter’s coma, and so on. However, Lucy also gets to know Peter’s brother Jack, and can’t help but fall in love with him, too.
Eventually, the con goes on too long, Peter awakens, thinks he has amnesia as he doesn’t recognize Lucy, but the wedding happens anyway, until, at the last minute, Lucy confesses. The wedding is called off, but eventually Jack proposes to Lucy, they get married, and when Peter asks Lucy when she fell in love with Jack, she replies, “While you were sleeping.” Cue the credits and “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors. #90sY’all.
Like I said, this movie was a hit amongst hits. Nearly clearing $200 million, Golden Globe nominated, good reviews, it did well for itself. I remember seeing it with my family and all of us laughing and cheering and just not able to get enough of Sandy. I was young.
But, folks, it’s time to grow up. The implications of While You Were Sleeping are horrifying. While You Were Sleeping is a not a cheeky, fun romantic romp. It is a harrowing tale of a pseudo-identity thief compromising the safety of a family by falsely insisting that she deserves to be a part of it. It’s the journey of a dangerous narcissist who lacks the moral integrity and courage to be honest after a mild, brief slip-up because the lie feels good.
And we dared to laugh at this.
I want you to really think about the plight of the Callaghan family in this film. Their son very nearly dies on FREAKING CHRISTMAS, goes into a coma which is a very serious medical issue, then are led to believe that their beloved child has lied to them about his “fiancé”, and then has to live with the fact that what brought them all back together…was all fake.
This would be a traumatic torrent of fear, guilt, and, ultimately, a massive blow to any sense of trust not just in their son but of the world in general. We hope and we pray that the world isn’t as dark and lonely and dishonest as we fear. And then some brunette shows up at the hospital smiling and whatever feeble sense of confidence and hope we’ve managed to pile up is shattered to bits months later, never to be fixed no matter if you do reach the tracks in time or not. Their trust is obliterated, and no amount of witty one-liners will bring that back.
But really, let’s take a look at Lucy. Sure, we’ve all admired from a far, but could you ever imagine running a long con of this magnitude in the hopes that maybe you can someday convince someone that doesn’t even know your name to maybe love you? That’s not love, that’s infatuation and obsession. It’s selfish and not at all what love is about. Not to mention incredibly, undeniably creepy.
Sure, the movie tries to let Lucy off the hook a bit by having Peter’s grandmother have a heart condition that may be compromised if Lucy confesses, but still. If Lucy was a decent human being, she’d realize that there is no excuse for her behavior, and that the damage that would be caused by prolonging it would be ten times worse than some 85-year old woman who’s already lived a long life passing on.
Imagine this: what if Jack had never entered the picture? Would Lucy’s “love” of Peter continue to grow? Part of her wedding confession was that she was actually in love with Jack. Not that she was a manipulating, deceptive sociopath implanting herself into a sincerely moral and caring group of people. Would she have said “I do.”? And then let’s say down the road Peter’s grandmother does die, is that when the con ends? Or does Lucy have to live the rest of her life knowing that she materialized false feelings and a pretend past all at the expense of poor commuting Peter and the Callaghan clan?
What if they someday had children? What if Peter cheated on her? Where would the lies end and the real world begin? Would Lucy even know after a while? The rabbit holes piled on top of rabbit holes are bottomless.
And what about Jack? His future with Lucy is built entirely upon lies. In fact, he’s the first one who is suspicious of her to begin with. There’s no way he’s ever going to be able to forget just exactly how they met and fell in love. She took advantage of a family in crisis and played upon their need for comfort and reassurance. There’s no way he won’t be questioning her every move, her every promise, and, unfortunately, he’s completely justified. But Lucy doesn’t seem to mind.
In fact, she gets away with it. And what’s worse, Jack decides to propose to her at the same station where this whole nightmare began. And what’s even worse: SHE ACCEPTS! Instead of taking responsibility for her actions Lucy only thinks about herself again and decides she’s not done leeching the love away from these helplessly warm and welcoming people. They just don’t seem to know any better. Either because they’re really that full of love, or maybe because their perception of good and rightness has been irrevocably warped by some demented token collector.
Accuse me of overthinking it, but if your significant one day confessed that your past together was a lie, that they weren’t who they said they were, and that they always loved you even before you met, wouldn’t you want to change your name and move to Taiwan?
It’s time to wake up about While You Were Sleeping.
Adam Esquenazi Douglas is a playwright who was born in Texas, grew up in Arkansas, was raised by a Jewish man and a Cuban woman, and, somehow, he doesn’t have an accent. His plays have been produced across the United States, as well as in Canada and Japan.
He is co-host of two podcasts, The JimmyJew Podcast Extravaganza and Schmame Over, which can be found at http://jimmyjew.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameover.libsyn.com/ and http://schmameoverlevel2.libsyn.com/ respectively, as well as on iTunes. He is a contributing writer to www.GamersSchmamers.com.
He currently lives in Brooklyn where he drinks far too much coffee.