Light Sleeper

Light Sleeper is a 1992 American crime drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader and starring Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, and Dana Delany. Set in New York City, the film shows the tragic events following the encounter of a 40-year-old drug dealer and his former girlfriend.[1]

Light Sleeper
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Schrader
Produced byLinda Reisman
Mario Kassar (executive)
Written byPaul Schrader
Music byMichael Been
CinematographyEdward Lachman
Edited byKristina Boden
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • August 21, 1992 (1992-08-21)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,050,861


John LeTour, a 40-year-old New Yorker, is one of two delivery men for Ann, who supplies an exclusive clientele in the banking and financing sector with drugs. While Ann contemplates switching to the cosmetics business, LeTour, who suffers from insomnia, has lost his perspective in life.

One night LeTour meets his former girlfriend Marianne, with whom he once shared an intense but destructive relationship due to drug abuse. Although they stopped taking drugs, Marianne refuses his offer for a new start. After spending one night together, she tells him that this was her way of saying good-bye. Unbeknown to Marianne, her mother died at the hospital while she was with LeTour. The next time she meets LeTour, she attacks him, demanding that he get out of her life once and for all.

Meanwhile, the police start observing LeTour because one of his clients, Tis, is connected to the drug-induced death of a young woman. On his next delivery, LeTour witnesses a heavily drugged Marianne in Tis' apartment. Only minutes after his departure, she falls several stories to her death. LeTour gives the police a lead to Marianne's last whereabouts. At the wake, Marianne's sister Randi tells him not to feel guilty for what happened.

When Tis orders a new supply and insists that LeTour delivers it, he senses that Tis wants to dispose of him. Ann accompanies him, but Tis' guards force her to leave the room. In the subsequent shootout, LeTour kills Tis and both of his henchmen, but is left critically wounded. He lies down on the hotel bed, showing no anger or pain, only a profound weariness, as police sirens can be heard in the distance.

Ann visits LeTour in jail, where he expresses his hopes for a better future. The film hints at the possibility that Ann will wait for him.



Schrader has described the film as a "man and his room" story like American Gigolo and his most famous screenplay, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. In this film his character in dealing with anxiety over his life and the external forces that threaten it.[2] Light Sleeper also shares with American Gigolo an ending reminiscent of Robert Bresson's Pickpocket, in which the imprisoned hero is shown contemplating a new and hopefully better existence.

The movie was still in the process of fundraising when the date of production start, which Schrader had given to stars Willem Dafoe and Susan Sarandon, arrived, so Schrader financed the first three weeks of pre-production from his own money.[3] Light Sleeper was the first artistic collaboration of Willem Dafoe and Paul Schrader, who met during filming of Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. Dafoe and Schrader later collaborated in Affliction (1997), Auto Focus (2002), The Walker (2007), Adam Resurrected (2008) and Dog Eat Dog (2016).

Schrader had originally intended to use songs from Bob Dylan's album Empire Burlesque but they could not agree on which songs to use and Schrader decided to use songs by Michael Been instead.[4]

Light Sleeper premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 1992 and was released in the US on August 21 the same year, earning $1 million at the box office.[5] It gained mostly positive reviews and received various nominations, including the Independent Spirit Award. Willem Dafoe was awarded the Sant Jordi Award as best actor. In a telegram, German filmmaker Wim Wenders congratulated Schrader, stating that his direction was in a league with that of Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu, who both Wenders and Schrader admire.[3] In a 2005 interview, Schrader called Light Sleeper his most personal film and ranked it number 11 on his list of favourite films of the 1990s.[6]


Light Sleeper received positive reviews from critics, as it holds an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 38 reviews.

"Schrader knows this world of insomnia, craving and addiction. And he knows all about people living in a cocoon of themselves. […] In film after film, for year after year, Paul Schrader has been telling this story in one way or another, but never with more humanity than this time." – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times[7]

"[…] a small but absorbing mood piece […] even when the film doesn't gel, one is held by Willem Dafoe's grimly compelling performance." – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly[8]

"[…] stylish film noir […] But the story meanders, and it echoes Taxi Driver and American Gigolo so closely that Schrader is working less than fresh variations on over-familiar themes." – Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide[9]


  1. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Light Sleeper Movie Review & Film Summary (1992) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2017-01-04.
  2. ^ Kevin Jackson, Schrader on Schrader, Faber & Faber, London 1990.
  3. ^ a b Interview Archived 2012-02-22 at the Wayback Machine with Paul Schrader on, retrieved 2011-10-28.
  4. ^ Audio commentary by Paul Schrader on the Light Sleeper DVD.
  5. ^ Light Sleeper at the Internet Movie Database.
  6. ^ Interview with Paul Schrader on The Hollywood Interview, originally published in Venice Magazine, November 2005, retrieved 2011-11-06.
  7. ^ Review by Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, September 4, 1992.
  8. ^ Review by Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly, August 28, 1992.
  9. ^ Time Out Film Guide, Seventh Edition 1999, Penguin Books, London, 1998.

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