Sleep is becoming one of the crisis points of late modernity, as the steady encroachment of the “24/7” plugged-in world only intensifies sleep’s already uncanny nature. To sleep is to slip into a realm of darkness, irrationality, and the supernatural, a realm that is not only profoundly opposed to the contemporary illuminated world but that has always lain uncomfortably close to death. Indeed, the Western way of sleeping has been described as a “lie down and die” model. To walk or talk while sleeping, in particular, is to act in ways divorced from the world of light and reason, to act without volition and the consent of the mind. The body that acts becomes something other than the person it appears to be, producing uncanny doubles and evoking the profoundly uncanny uncertainty as to whether, as philosopher Dylan Trigg puts it, “‘I’ am truly identifiable with my body itself.” Horror films in the twenty-first century in particular have turned to sleep to exploit its inherent uncanniness and the way it suggests that we are not always in control of who we are and what we do.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)
Before sleep became the subject of professionalized medicine in the US, and before it became such a hot topic of horror in the 21st century, it nonetheless was dangerous terrain. Invasion of the Body Snatchers warns that to fall asleep is to risk being taken over by an alien being, robbed of all human emotion and individuality. As it often is, sleep was a metaphor in this case, alerting Americans to the possibility of being taken over by Communists or by the force of American conformity in the post-war years. But Invasion also represented quite dramatically how we become someone (something) other than our conscious self—an alien being—for roughly eight hours a night.