July 9, 2023

IN THE ARMS OF MORPHEUS: Sympathy for the Sleepless

2019 / 82 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

I don’t remember the last time I slept through the night. For one reason or another, something always snaps me awake. I often blame my cat, since Stinky has a tendency to howl like the damned until I get up to meet her needs. She usually wants kibbles, but sometimes it's just a case of "me awake, therefo you awake."

But even on nights she doesn’t, I still get out of bed at least once and sit wide awake for ten to twenty minutes. And I don’t know why. Whether or not that qualifies as a sleep disorder is for experts to decide, I guess, but the subject is certainly conducive to an interesting documentary.

In the Arms of Morpheus explores various sleep disorders, but don’t go expecting testimony by any authorities on the subject. That’s sort of a shame, because surely there’s some kind of disorder called Cantankerous Cat Syndrome, as well as a treatment that doesn’t involve snapping Stinky’s scrawny little neck.

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Instead, the film focuses on several different people and how their waking lives are affected by various sleep disorders. One young woman suffers from narcolepsy, but while we see her being tested, we’re mostly made privy to what it’s like going through life needing to nap all the time. Another woman is an artist whose vivid nightmares influence her unsettling paintings. The weirdest might be the guy suffering from Exploding Head Syndrome, where sudden loud “noises” startle you awake. He spends a lot of his time trying to replicate those sounds with music equipment.

Each subject offers their own sparse narration. Some seem quietly desperate, while others - such as the artist - appear more bemused than distressed. In between are stretches in which director Marc Schmidt incorporates surreal imagery and music to accompany their stories, creating a suitably dreamlike aesthetic (albeit on an indie budget). 

Ironically, the subdued tone and pace made me kind of sleepy, only to be jarred back awake whenever Exploding Head guy starts banging on his synthesizers (which I suppose is exactly what he experiences every night). Not that their personal stories aren’t inherently interesting, but perhaps everything's a little too understated to fully sustain a feature-length film on the topic, especially one which offers no concrete details or closure. Still, In the Arms of Morpheus is sporadically engaging with a sympathetic eye for its subjects.

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