Sleeper (1973)


“As [Aldous Huxley] saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” –Neil PostmanAmusing Ourselves to Death

I watched Sleeper twice. The first time, like Woody Allen’s character Miles, I fell asleep. The second time I was fully awake but felt like I was stuck in a weird dream. Now it’s midnight and I should be asleep, but I’m writing a blog post anyway.

Update: After writing that last sentence, I fell asleep with the computer on my lap pondering the question, “Are there any valuable life lessons we can take away from Sleeper?” I awoke at 6am with this page still up.

The year is 2173 and the world has turned into a dystopian society. Two scientists who are concerned for their society’s well-being unfreeze a man from 1973, hoping he can use his lack of identity to slip the radar and derail their dictator’s secret plan called the Aries Project. The only problem? Their hero ends up being a loser…a grown-up Charlie Brown, if you will. Woody Allen.

My favorite funny moments in Sleeper are the ones of true slapstick that harken back to the early days of comedy: the music becomes peppy, the film is sped up a bit, and the actors exaggerate their movements. Allen also uses size to make us laugh. If slipping on a little banana peel is funny, how much funnier would it be to see someone – or two people – slip on a GIANT banana peel? See for yourself…

Woody Allen’s unobtrusive and lackluster persona provides many ripe opportunities for comedy (fruit pun intended – and there’s more coming up) in this setting that is expected to have a serious tone thanks to authors like George Orwell. This was Allen’s eighth project, so he was starting to fine-tune his onscreen style that would come to fruition in films like Annie Hall, which is #4 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs list.

While some of the reasons I mentioned may have earned Sleeper its 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (yikes!), I do have a critique. Some scenes seem exist for the sole purpose of giving Woody Allen a platform to deliver a punchline or two. For example, after Miles wakes up from his 200-year slumber, the scientists are showing him pictures to learn as much as they can about the past. Miles flips from picture to picture, saying things like, “This is some girl burning a brassiere. You can see it’s a very small fire.” Punchlines are humorous, but I enjoy them more when I know they are placed purposefully in the story.

Spoiler alert: The Aries Project is a plan to clone the society’s dictator, because all that remains of him is a nose. At the end of the movie, Miles Monroe and his friend Luna (Diane Keaton) are mistaken for the surgeons who are going to perform the cloning. Their ridiculous behavior at the operation table in front of government onlookers echoes the ridiculousness of the task at hand.

How can you replicate a complete person from just a nose? In our own society, we try it all the time; we look at one little aspect of a person and use it to make a construction of their whole story. When everyone starts making these conclusions and doing so becomes a trend, prejudices and injustices build up that are very hard to reverse. So there is a life lesson here: don’t do that. Don’t become a “sleeper” in society and get swept away by how everyone else is thinking. Wake up and look at the big pictures yourself.


Woody Allen directed and starred in Sleeper.