At the end of Paul Schrader's Light Sleeper, drug dealer and protagonist John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) sits facing his friend and ex-boss Ann (Susan Sarandon). Awaiting sentencing for an unspecified conviction (presumably dealing and manslaughter), LeTour is still optimistic. He takes Ann's hand, smiles at her and says 'I've been looking forward." She smiles back at him and answers, "Strange how things work." As he kisses her hand and the film moves to its final frame, LeTour's romantic voice-over (done by singer Michael Been of the rock group, "The Call") sings an important line in the story:
"All our eyes have seen, all our arms embrace/ All that lives and breathes, each beloved face/ Standing at the door, the book is open wide/ Now I seal my fate, now I step inside."
Both the final exchange between LeTour and Ann and LeTour's final voice-over are paradoxical. LeTour's final statement asserts his participation in time's forward movement. Though the promised action is mere observation, it still ascribes significance to his agency, to its influence on his future. Ann, while desiring the same future as LeTour, attributes to it a different contingency, fate. This coupling of two seemingly incongruent forces is described in LeTour's voice-over. With the line "standing at the door, the book is open wide," LeTour places himself at the point of infinite possibility. But entering that possibility, "stepping inside," hinges on the coupling mentioned above. He must "seal his fate," he must actively engage in the negation of his action. In doing so, he will free himself from his isolation, joining "all that lives and breathes."
It is my contention that LeTour's struggle to reach this point constitutes the film's dramatic thrust. To free himself from his existential paralysis, LeTour must neither passively accept fate nor actively oppose it. He must, by participating in that fate, help transform it into grace, bring meaning to what was previously arbitrary. Schrader brings conflict to this objective through the use of, and play with, film noir tropes: existentialism, the domestic space, the femme fatale and the pursuing past. As neo-noir hero himself, LeTour attains grace by moving past these elements, by shifting from existential detachment to sacred involvement.
""The Ties That Bind and Bless the Soul": Grace and Noir in Schrader's Light Sleeper,"
Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 2
, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol2/iss2/4