Finding examples of ‘sloth’ in films has been more challenging, chiefly due to the reason that a director and screenwriter would presumably want to make films that would interest people and ‘sloth’ as a topic does not seem altogether interesting enough to grab people’s attention for at least an hour and a half! However, I have searched high and low and found a few examples than in some way could be said to feature the sin of ‘sloth.’
Reality Bites 1994
I recently re-watched Reality Bites [DVD]  after watching it as a teenager in the nineties. What struck me first about it was how much the nineties hair, make up and fashion has swung around again and looks contemporary! This film was the first film that Ben Stiller directed and very different from the comedy films he was involved in later.
This film is a serious drama about four friends from university who graduate into the early-mid nineties recession and find that getting a good job is much more difficult than they at first anticipated. Lelaina (Winona Ryder) wants to be a serious documentary film-maker and initially films the lives of her flatmates. She finds however that breaking into this industry is much harder than she at first thought and starts off after graduation working on an awful cheesy morning local TV show for a dreadful host. Hope arrives in the chance meeting of TV executive Michael Grates (Ben Stiller) who works for a music channel that is expanding its programming into other areas. They begin dating for a while and he is interested in getting her documentary produced by his channel. Lelaina’s best friend is Vickie played by Janeanne Garafolo who is a kind of dead pan cool girl, who is promiscuous and jaded. She finds work after graduation at The Gap and becomes manager after a short while working there. The other friend in their group is Sammy Gray who struggles with his sexuality and comes out to his parents during the course of the film.
The final character in the group and the one that I will talk mostly about is Troy Dyer played by Ethan Hawke. Troy is in the true nineties sense of the work a ‘slacker’ who could be seen to be very sloth-like. He has been fired from twelve jobs, in the last position he was sacked from working in a news kiosk because he ate one of the chocolate bars! He is arrogant and especially loathing of Michael (his love rival for Lelaina) who he sees as an unintelligent ‘yuppie.’ Troy was only ten units away from graduating in a degree in Philosophy but would rather be in an amateur guitar band and continue living a permanent student lifestyle. A typical quote from Troy sums up his character:
“There’s no point in any of this. It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. Quarter Pounder with Cheese, those are good…I sit back and I smoke my camel cigarettes and I ride on my mount.”
He displays an arrogance in his behaviour, believing that he knows everything despite being the only student who did not graduate in the group and the one without a regular job. At times during the film though you do get a sense of who Troy really is under this unappealing persona, he can be sweet and kind though he often behaves otherwise.
The whole film is essentially about growing up, gaining maturity and perspective and finding their adult selves. It is interesting to see the development of the characters across the course of the film, especially Lalaina and Troy’s. The sloth displayed in Troy’s character does go through some kind of evolution and leaves me to wonder if the film was made today (disregarding the aesthetic which has come around again) whether the ending would be the same? I won’t give anything more away in case you want to watch it but it is an interesting film.
Somewhere [DVD] (2010) by Sofia Coppola is a slow paced, dreamy kind of film. It is typical in aesthetic vision to Coppola’s other films. In Somewhere, we see the rich, idle figure of successful film star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who is recuperating from an injury at the luxurious Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood while he reflects on his shallow Hollywood existence. Johnny lives a life of decadent slothfulness and appears to be unable to feel any excitement in his life. He views his life as a series of pointless exercises and clearly suffers from depression and ennui which appear to be caused by his wealthy and famous lifestyle which further divorce him from the reality of the outside world.
We see a change in Johnny however, when he is asked by his ex-wife to look after his eleven year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). The sense of responsibility that being a father brings seems to make him regret his slothful, shallow existence. When Cleo leaves for Summer camp he is devastated but there is a small piece of hope left in that he now understands that money cannot buy you happiness and he seems to decide to change the way he has been existing.
This film seems to say that a life of rich idleness is no life at all and that having more money does not protect you from depression. In some ways the film advocates a Buddhist philosophy, in that being mindful and cherishing the everyday relationships that one has over any material consideration is the way to leading a happy life.
Rear Window 1954
Rear Window [DVD]  is surely one of the finest of Hitchcock’s films. The plot of the film could be best described using the following saying; ‘The Devil makes light work for idle hands.’ Photographer L.B. Jeffries AKA Jeff (James Stewart) finds himself at home as he has suffered a badly broken leg and is confined to a wheelchair. He is enduring a period of enforced sloth due to injury and to stave off his boredom he becomes a voyeur of his neighbours in the block of flats directly opposite. One night Jeff believes he witnesses the murder of Mrs Thorwald by her husband Lars Thorwald (a jewellery salesman). He hears a scream and later sees Lars suspiciously cleaning knives and hauling a heavy crate out of their apartment. A neighbour’s dog is then killed and Jeff is convinced that Lars has done this so that his wife’s body is not discovered…
The plot gets thicker and thicker all set off due to a period of enforced idleness caused by an injury. As we saw in the slothful literature post, sometimes sloth is not something that one chooses but their circumstances such as climate or injury may cause them to act or behave in a certain way. This film is amazingly shot, framed and edited and is definitely worth seeing if you have not already done so.
So this month, three different examples of sloth in films from different decades, can you think of any more? Let us know