Light Sleeper

Director: Paul Schrader
Screenwriters: Paul Schrader

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


Paul Schrader is an American auteur in the best and truest sense of the word. Indeed few American directors have produced such an obsessive, personal body of work, which at its best combines a raw emotional power with an intellectual, even spiritual, exploration of the meaning of personal existence. And Light Sleeper is definitely a return to Schrader at his best.

John LeTour is a forty-year-old drug dealer at a crossroads. Perhaps it is the ending of an era. Twenty years of indulgence, of drugs and piles of cash, of chic restaurants, trendy parties and exclusive clubs have left LeTour with nothing to hold onto and nothing to live for. His role as delivery boy for his mentor and confidante, Ann, is well paid but has no future, especially in the light of Ann’s intention to finally go straight. When he is making a drug run one rainy night, he bumps into his ex-girlfriend, Marianne, the love of his life, and he makes an effort to reach out and establish something meaningful. But fatal developments intervene, and the road to LeTour’s redemption begins accumulating curves, which eventually lead to a violent catharsis.

Reminiscent of the unforgettable Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver) and Julian Kay (American Gigolo), LeTour is the quintessential Schrader “lonely man.” In the evocative, atmospheric world of New York, Dafoe’s LeTour is a man with a gnawing spiritual need, a drug dealer with a conscience who is driven by a foreboding sense of his future. He lives in an almost-empty apartment, without luxuries save a radio, and spends his time filling composition notebooks with streams of his thoughts and then discarding them. Willem Dafoe once again gives a complex, gripping performance and joins Susan Sarandon and Dana Delany in a stellar cast.

Schrader’s exploration of American angst is powerfully resonant and provokes some profound soul searching. The examination of a drug culture which has metamorphosed from pleasure and experimentation to its present incarnation of death is, in fact, a metaphoric tracing of our own generational aging. Light Sleeper, Schrader’s third installment in a trilogy of character studies, makes an important contribution to our understanding of that process.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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