Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from P-T

Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

laura martin home film

Principal social themes: spouse abuse, women’s rights

Twentieth Century Fox. R rating. Featuring: Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin, Kevin Anderson, Elizabeth Lawrence, Kyle Secor, Claudette Nevins, Tony Abatemarco, Marita Geraghty, Harley Venton, Graham Harrington, Sandi Shackelford, Nancy Fish, Bonnie Cook. Written by Ronald Bass based on the novel by Nancy Price. Cinematography by John W. Lindley. Edited by George Bowers. Music by Jerry Goldsmith, Leonard Bernstein, and Hector Berlioz. Produced by Leonard Goldberg. Directed by Joseph Ruben. Color. 98 minutes.

Overview

Sleeping With the Enemy is a thriller portraying a wife who fakes her death to escape from her abusive husband. Although far-fetched on several points, the film makes an interesting case portraying the desperate options that face a woman who is trapped in a violent marriage. Julia Roberts, one of the most popular actresses of the 1990s, makes a persuasive case in the leading role and attracted considerable attention to this picture.

Synopsis

Laura Burney is a virtual prisoner in a luxurious ultra-modern beach house on Cape Cod. Her husband, Martin Burney, a wealthy investment counselor, is an obsessive/compulsive control freak. He orders every detail of Laura’s life, from her daily wardrobe to the positioning of cans in her pantry. His physical abuse for minor infractions is becoming increasingly brutal. Their lovemaking, always accompanied by the playing of the last movement from the Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique on their CD system, has become an ordeal for her. When she decides to leave him, she realizes Martin will never let her go willingly. She plans an elaborate escape. Martin knows that Laura is terrified of the water, and every few months he forces her on a boat trip. She secretly leans to swim, and when their neighbor invites them for an evening sail, she slips out of the boat during a storm. She sneaks back to her home, grabs a few items, and heads off, tossing her wedding ring into the toilet. Meanwhile, Martin has summoned the police and Coast Guard to search for his wife, presumably lost at sea. Laura is declared dead, and Martin howls in despair, smashing the huge glass windows of his home. In disguise, Laura has hopped a bus to the Midwest, finally settling in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She rents a house and tries to start a new life with a new identity.

Martin becomes suspicious of his wife’s death, however, when he gets a condolence call from one of Laura’s friends who mentions her efforts to learn to swim. He then finds her wedding ring in her toilet, unused since she had vanished. He begins to organize a search. Months earlier, Laura had told him that her mother, blind and paralyzed, had passed away at a nursing home in the Midwest. When he visits the nursing home, however, he learns that his wife had simply moved her to another home. He hires a team of detectives to locate the mother, and then he stakes out the new nursing home, waiting for Laura to appear.

Now using the name Sara Waters, Laura is befriended by her neighbor Ben, a drama teacher from the university. He helps her get a job at the school library. He soon realizes that Sara is in constant fear, and she slowly confides in him about her past. She confesses that she wants to visit her mother in the nursing home, but is afraid that Martin may have the institution under surveillance. Ben disguises her as a young man so she can visit her mother. When Martin learns the old lady had her first visitor, he interviews her, posing as a policeman. He tricks her into revealing that Laura has a new boyfriend who is a college drama professor. Martin tracks her down to Cedar Falls. He slips into her home while Laura and Ben have a moonlight picnic. When Laura returns home, she knows that something is wrong when she finds the cans rearranged in her kitchen cabinet and the Symphonie Fantastique playing on her CD player. Martin holds her at gunpoint before she can escape. Ben comes to the door and can detect something is wrong by the tone in Laura’s voice. He breaks in and Martin knocks him out. Laura gets the gun away from Martin and calls the police, saying she just shot an intruder. She then kills Martin as he tries to persuade her to surrender to him.

Critique

Several plot loopholes weaken the impact of Sleeping With the Enemy , although it still makes an excellent launching point for discussions about the implications and trauma of spouse abuse. Laura did library research to consider her situation, and felt the legal course of informing the police and obtaining a restraining order to be inadequate protection. The psychological damage done to her also made it impossible for her to confide in another person. If she had followed that course, she might have received some practical advice. Completely isolated, Laura worked out the only feasible scheme that made sense to her. Her distress and isolation is undoubtedly the dilemma faced by many women in the nightmare of an abusive relationship. This is the core issue of Sleeping With the Enemy , which makes the film relevant as a social issue film. Even when the film later gets sidetracked into a traditional stalker thriller, this point remains central to the story. The screenplay disappoints, however, when it ignores other important concerns. How does Laura finance her escape? What is her mother’s financial situation in the nursing home? How does she handle the other legal questions, such as her Social Security card or a driver’s license. These issues could have been addressed in some fashion, but the screenplay simply ignores them.

Despite its flaws, the film remains powerful due to the strong performances by Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin, who manages to avoid making Martin a complete monster by showing him to be a prisoner of his own madness. He even seems human when he reveals his own desperate attachment to Laura, best evident perhaps in the last scene of the film as he pleads with her. The picture is also graced with a splendid soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, influenced no doubt by the lyrical third movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony . The scene in which Laura overhears Ben singing and dancing passages from West Side Story while tending his apple trees is also a magical moment. On the bad side, the film contains a silly montage sequence of Laura and Ben out on a date. This scene clashes in tone with the rest of the film. It is also a shame the film did not contain an epilogue showing whether Laura revealed the entire sequence of events to the police when they arrived. It could have also suggested whether she might have had a possible future with Ben.

Slender Thread (1965) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique [next] [back] Slater, Samuel - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Samuel Slater, Social and Economic Impact

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

3 months ago

This is a very well written evaluation of this movie. It was filmed in Abbeville SC, and I visit there several times a year.
Laura's financial situation for escape is explained in the scene in which she grabs her bag and leaves the beach house. There is a large wad of cash visible in there that could be all one hundred dollar bills. There's also a Greyhound bus ticket visible in the bag.
As for her mother's situation in the nursing home, that one is simple to explain. Her mother apparently had no property of her own, and therefore would be living on Social Security Disability. This would have made it easier for the private investigators that Martin hired to locate her so quickly.
And there is also a scene in which Laura thanks Ben for helping her "work this out" with her job. He could have gotten her a false ID and perhaps some false transcripts. He sure was good in the disguise Department.
And there was somewhat of an epilogue within the movie, it simply occurred before the ending. Laura says during a flashback scene, "That was the night that I died and someone else was saved. Someone who was afraid of water but learned to swim. Someone who knew there would be one minute when he wouldn't be watching. Someone who knew the darkness from the broken lights would show the way." This is in fact an epilogue with in a movie because she is obviously telling this to someone after the events of the movie, since she did not even tell this to Ben who was her closest friend She is likely talking to either Ben, or a police officer.

Vote down Vote up

almost 4 years ago

Several plot loopholes weaken the impact of Sleeping With the Enemy , although it still makes an excellent launching point for discussions about the implications and trauma of spouse abuse. Laura did library research to consider her situation, and felt the legal course of informing the police and obtaining a restraining order to be inadequate protection. The psychological damage done to her also made it impossible for her to confide in another person. If she had followed that course, she might have received some practical advice. Completely isolated, Laura worked out the only feasible scheme that made sense to her. Her distress and isolation is undoubtedly the dilemma faced by many women in the nightmare of an abusive relationship. This is the core issue of Sleeping With the Enemy , which makes the film relevant as a social issue film. Even when the film later gets sidetracked into a traditional stalker thriller, this point remains central to the story. The screenplay disappoints, however, when it ignores other important concerns. How does Laura finance her escape? What is her mother’s financial situation in the nursing home? How does she handle the other legal questions, such as her Social Security card or a driver’s license. These issues could have been addressed in some fashion, but the screenplay simply ignores them.

Despite its flaws, the film remains powerful due to the strong performances by Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin, who manages to avoid making Martin a complete monster by showing him to be a prisoner of his own madness. He even seems human when he reveals his own desperate attachment to Laura, best evident perhaps in the last scene of the film as he pleads with her. The picture is also graced with a splendid soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith, influenced no doubt by the lyrical third movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony . The scene in which Laura overhears Ben singing and dancing passages from West Side Story while tending his apple trees is also a magical moment. On the bad side, the film contains a silly montage sequence of Laura and Ben out on a date. This scene clashes in tone with the rest of the film. It is also a shame the film did not contain an epilogue showing whether Laura revealed the entire sequence of events to the police when they arrived. It could have also suggested whether she might have had a possible future with Ben.


Read more: Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique - Laura, Martin, Home, and Film - JRank Articles http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/984/Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-1991.html#ixzz2mNbJbg00

Vote down Vote up

almost 4 years ago

Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique