Ryan Lacen’s feature debut, All The World Is Sleeping, is able to put together a stage that proves to be rather inadequate for the hefty story it tells. It’s indeed a righteous goal to want to chronicle the experiences, which were more candidly harrowing ordeals than anything else, of seven real women fighting off the demon of opioid addiction with all their might. Nonetheless, the necessary grit a story of real demons calls for gets blunted by the spurious charm and shimmer Lacen paints his protagonist and everything about her with. Surrounding the gratuitous glamor of the central mouthpiece are, however, jarringly lifelike anecdotes from practically indistinguishable women who bring their distinct encounters to life and add a disturbing authenticity to the narrative.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘All The World Is Sleeping’?
A lot has been stolen from Chama ever since she was a wide-eyed little girl gazing at the twists of her abuelo’s wrench as though it were a magician’s wand. Chama and her sister could’ve had a different, much more sunny life altogether had it not been for their lousy mother and a pattern of familial abuse. And while her sister has found it relatively easier to spurn any part in the toxic pattern, drugs have long been a destructive sense of comfort for young Chama. Even as a mother, with her wonderfully patient daughter Nevaeh at her mercy, Chama’s been the choicest victim of the beast of opioids. So much so that Nevaeh spends night after night alone in the dreary home with a leaking roof while Chama’s screaming remnants of normalcy die a tragic death in the predatory arms of her dealer, and she comes home a ghost of herself, barefoot and in immense pain. And following the pattern that addiction usually follows in mothers, Chama’s disease threatens her time with Nevaeh, for whom her love may be insurmountable, but not strong enough on its own to keep her from the destructive passage.
Has Chama’s Life Led Her To Become An Addict?
As most kids raised in a broken home by a solitary, unstable parent would be, Chama and her sister, Mari, have never known the peace and happiness of a loving household. One can hardly blame Chama for growing up without the best coping mechanisms when one of her early memories of her mother is being driven around recklessly and having small shards of glass picked out of her and Mari’s skin by her mother. Her only source of love and hope, her abuelo, had his ties untethered from the mortal realm when Chama needed him the most. And being offered a sip from a flask is in no universe the kind of support that a minor needs from her mother, and that too right after learning that her father has won custody over Mari because her mother got sick of fighting. However heartbreaking a portrait the vehemently non-linear narrative of All The World Is Sleeping paints of Beatriz, the film doesn’t make it easy for the audience to genuinely empathize with a mother who time and again prioritized her disastrous whims and endangered her little kids. Mari growing up tremendously more reliable and in control of her instincts only goes to show that Beatriz irrefutably played a role in the kind of dysfunctional adult that Chama eventually turned out to be.
Did Chama Lose Custody Of Nevaeh?
There hasn’t been a moment in Chama’s life where fleeting sobriety hasn’t come at the cost of making the active, terribly difficult choice of not lighting a fire underneath a piece of tin foil. And when she can’t, even pushing away her well-meaning sister doesn’t seem like too big a price to pay for wasted Chama. The only friend the barefoot mother with a crying heart has in the whole wide world is Toaster. Although the consistently odd circumstances of each of the meetings between these two friends do make me wonder if Toaster isn’t a towering manifestation of the part of Chama’s mind that justifies every whiff of heroin, why else would she not be present at Nevaeh’s birthday party? A party she helped Chama shop for? It’s likely that Toaster is the rational translation of the kind of person Chama believes she could’ve been had it not been for the way her life played out: still an addict but with a future ahead.
Fighting through the haunting images of the false hope Nevaeh’s father Santi wooed her with seven years ago, it’s a miracle that Chama’s persistence goes on for as long as it does. Of course, no amount of staunch determination helps an addict when breathing itself becomes a monumental task to accomplish without the catastrophic embrace of her poison. Life often showcases a nefarious penchant for orchestrating devastatingly ironic circumstances. For Chama, a mother OD-ing on the bathroom floor on her daughter’s birthday, the irony of the situation serves as a daunting reminder that generational trauma and its materialization can often take identical shapes and forms. Thankfully, the luck that Beatriz wasn’t granted when she lost her life to an OD graces Chama when her eyes flutter open under the blinding light of the hospital room. The most ill-timed news of a pregnancy and the crushing departure of her daughter after the CPS’ involvement—even surviving a near-fatal OD—don’t appear to quench life’s thirst for tormenting Chama.
‘All The World Is Sleeping’ Ending Explained: Does Chama Overcome Her Addiction?
It takes the utmost clarity of vision and understanding to successfully combine the elements of rabid addiction and that of the victim, who is a direct and undeniable responsibility of the addict. It’s all too easy to fumble and take a fall while treading the volatile dynamic between these two elements and inadvertently perforate the image of the addict with arrows of prejudiced blame. It’s sadly instinctive for mankind to hold an adult accountable for the symptoms of diseases they have no control over. As a negligent mother of a seven-year-old loving little girl, Chama should’ve ideally been a significantly more functional version of herself. But it’s unlikely for a far-from-ideal life to yield a functional member of society.
Personal, domestic, and systemic abuse have a way of depriving the already underprivileged to such unimaginable extents that the only coping mechanism against it, fueled by the ravaged ghost of self-worth, is the absolute annihilation of self. Chama’s always been a dreamer, maybe even to a fault. She’d built castles in the air and saw herself growing up as a rebellious mechanic. That was until life stole her abuelo, her only source of warmth, from her. She’d convinced herself that her humble house with Santi would be abundant with the treats of love and a family that wasn’t incapable of them, only to have her life turn upside down when her abusive husband was arrested, and she was left to fend for herself and the little one in her belly. It’s convenient to call Chama a bad mother and shower the system that doesn’t intervene when it’s needed with applause. Instead of lending a hand to the Chamas of the world, the “benevolent” government would wait until it’s just bad enough to swoop in, do the bare minimum, and collect gratitude from those only concerned with the well-being of the child and not with how it got to be that bad.
In a fervid battle of wills against her personal demon in the guise of a friend, Chama’s first verbal acknowledgment that she needs help bounces over the drab walls of the lonely alley frequented by society’s losers. Help isn’t something that is served on a platter for people like Chama. In a system where even a doctor is hopelessly out of touch with the basic dos and don’ts of addressing a pregnant woman who might’ve just attempted suicide, even privilege doesn’t often grant the afflicted the comfort of not being triggered into self-loathing. Where the sore, cracking, bleeding lips of people like Chama visibly nauseate a nurse, even the healthcare facilities come off as too picky about the ones in need of assistance. For something as terrifying as withdrawal can be when someone has spent enough time in the clutches of narcotics it’s never advisable for anyone to go through it without someone experienced guiding you. And when Chama’s first attempt, despite going on for quite a while, fails, it’s another nurse, a Black woman who’s undeniably accustomed to society’s behavior toward those who are in the most dire need of help, who sets her up with a room, a bed, and a guided process of cutting ties with narcotics. What keeps Chama going through each excruciating second of every day is her stern resolve to reunite with her daughter. No matter how high the cost is, she can’t let history repeat itself. It takes one broken link to sever the chain of generational curses, and that is what Chama aims to be. Even if it means sharing a room with a number of strangers at the only rehab willing to give her a shot, Chama would happily endure if it meant that she would hold Nevaeh in her arms again.
The most intriguing and sincerely pragmatic part of the narrative has been the NA-esque confessions of several survivors of addiction. How stealthily the demons of abuse, depravity, and predatory instincts permeate neighborhoods, towns, cities, and countries is prominent in each account that fearlessly divulges the secrets that the world has tried to make them ashamed to admit. Albeit foreseeably, the film waits for the last act to roll in before holding a face-to-face meet and greet with these women, who, as we now know, are the other addiction-afflicted women occupying the rehab facility that the counselor, Nick, has accepted Chama into. Each day spent in rehab is employed as a seamless stage of her acceptance that she’s not alone in her hell. Knowing that even Nick, who has struggled with abusive tendencies and cancer, has still been victorious in molding himself into a person who not only saves himself but others is a tremendous source of hope for Chama. And the more she gets to know the women who sit, talk, and rage before her, the more she realizes that the world may just be an unacknowledged family of unfortunates. Some, like the “crazy” woman Nevaeh was curious about and Chama’s been seeing a lot more of lately, may just be unfortunate enough to be beyond help, but the guilt associated with being granted the same help that others are not often plays a part in empaths declining it.
Luckily, Chama’s battle wasn’t selfish. It was for the happiness of her daughter that she’d chant to reassure herself of what ignited the fire in Chama. And in the vast infinitude of the land of white that Nick drives them all to, for the first time, Chama senses the elegant grandeur of something bigger than herself—larger than all the pain she’s had to endure to be here and all the accomplishments that have guided her on. It wouldn’t be easy, but for a woman emotionally intelligent enough to reconcile with her mother’s follies and her own similar fragilities, recovery isn’t impossible. Especially when recovery comes with the promise of reuniting with her daughter, the fulfillment of which adorns the ending sequence, there’s no mountain too high for Chama, self-named after the postcard with a happy mother-daughter silhouette. She’s tied up the loose ends and made amends with her sister; she’s made advancements at the prospect of reclaiming her daughter’s custody. And even if an ominous black feather falls at her feet and warns her of the possibility of relapsing, unlike the Nells of the world, who, through no fault of their own, still have a long way to go, Chama would fight harder than she has ever fought before. There’s no way she’d give in when she knew that would kill her chance at being a mother to the little girl who means the world to her. She comes from a mother who, despite trying her best, fell severely short. But goodness is only sustainable when it’s improved upon. What Chama has been successful in doing is improving upon the women that came before her while actively appreciating all the sacrifices they’d had to make to get her here.