Film Review: “Sleep Dealer”

Award-winning independent film by Alex Rivera, “Sleep Dealer,” takes the viewer to a futuristic, dystopian society through the eyes of oppressed migrant workers. Luis Fernando Peña stars as Memo Cruz, living in Oaxaca and Jacob Vargas as Rudy Ramirez, a U.S. military drone pilot.

The film written by Alex Rivera and David Riker explore a technologically advanced world where water resources are no longer local rights, with corporations controlling its distribution. Memories have also become a luxury in the sci-fi setting. Trading companies buy memories and people sell them through what is called nodes, a digital way to enter networks and work in factories.

Set in mostly Mexico and along the California border, both the lives of Memo and Rudy intersect. Memo helps his father grow crops while he’s self-taught in technology¬— his passion. When his knack for hacking results in U.S. retaliation, Rudy takes control on his first mission and targets unknown “aqua-terrorists,” resulting in the death of Memo’s father.

The plot explores both lives as Memo flees his hometown and Rudy copes with the realization that the enemy has a face. Memo then meets Luz Martinez, portrayed by Leonor Varela, who makes a living by selling her memories. She helps Memo by acquiring nodes illegally to allow him to work. Her friendly gesture has ulterior motives as she uploads her encounters with Memo per request of an interested memory buyer, Rudy.

“Sleep Dealer” approaches immigration on a whole new sci-fi perspective. Drones improve military tactics and also replace skilled laborers. Many migrant workers however, work in factories that power the drones. Nodes are also an example of exploitation, where those who need money, succumb to selling their personal memories for the benefit of others. It resembles unfair labor trades.

Memo’s character endures exploitation, much to the benefit of the interested U.S. audience. Such examples of commodifying migrant labor underlie throughout the film as American television shows amuse audiences with attacks on “aqua-terrorists” — a term given to anyone who threatens their water supply.

It instills the paradoxical thought that both may exist as a result of the other. Similar to present politics, immigration is considered for the labor but the equality is negated. The film resonates the idea that immigrants are very much “othered” by the majority, an idea that translated into the future.

“Sleep Dealer” was released in 2008 and is rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned) for sexuality and violence. This film was reviewed for Latinitas Magazine. 

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