To Sleep with Anger

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To Sleep with Anger
To Sleep with Anger FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Charles Burnett
Produced by Thomas S. Byrnes
Caldecot Chubb
Darin Scott
Written by Charles Burnett
Starring Danny Glover
Richard Brooks
Paul Butler
Mary Alice
Music by Stephen James Taylor
Cinematography Walt Lloyd
Edited by Nancy Richardson
Distributed by The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release dates
October 12, 1990 (limited)
January 11, 1991
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English

To Sleep with Anger is a 1990 drama film directed and written by Charles Burnett.


Harry (Danny Glover), an enigmatic old friend from the South, comes to visit Gideon (Paul Butler) and his wife Suzie (Mary Alice), who haven't seen him for many years, who are delighted to see him again, and who insist that he stay with them for as long as he would like. Gideon and Suzie live in South Central Los Angeles, though they retain some of their rural southern ways, including raising chickens in the backyard. Harry has a charming, down-home manner, but his presence brings to a crisis the simmering trouble that is already in the family—especially as regards the younger son, Samuel or "Baby Brother," and his relation to his parents, wife, and older brother, Junior (Carl Lumbly). His disruptive presence is dangerous (his influence threatens to break up Samuel's marriage and seems to be related to the illness that puts Gideon in bed in serious condition for a couple weeks), but ultimately purgative: Gideon's extended family is much more cohesive as a result of Harry's visit. The storm accompanying the wound Suzie suffers when she grasps the knife that Samuel and Junior are struggling over during their climactic fight clears while the two brothers quietly reconcile (during a long wait in an emergency room) and, similarly, the simmering anger that Harry seemed to bring to a boil is also dissipated. Harry's death just before the end of the film suggests, ambiguously, that he has been to a degree a self-sacrificing savior of the family.

A film of apparently simple contrasts—old ways/new ways, Los Angeles/"Back Home," blues/gospel music, good/evil—To Sleep with Anger is enormously complex, with dichotomies blending into each other, the past very much in the present, apparently contrasting blues and gospel merging into jazz, and so on. It has a wealth of folk traditions, from the African inheritance of the family as well as from "Back Home." Visually and symbolically, Burnett's film is striking, imaginatively made, and rich in multiple meanings. It is well worth multiple viewings.



The film won four Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay for Charles Burnett, Best Male Lead for Danny Glover, and Best Supporting Female for Sheryl Lee Ralph.

It also won Best Screenplay at the National Board of Review and the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

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