Sleep Dealer has a disturbing, but interesting premise. Not too far in the future, the US has sealed off its border with Mexico permanently, but it still imports labor through the Cybracero program, which allows laborers to remotely control robots doing construction, agriculture, and even childcare work in the United States (or anywhere really) through a wireless connection plugged right into the nervous system—kind of like The Matrix without the fantasy part. The ports into the body are called nodes, and they can be installed legally (and expensively) or cheaply on the black market by a coyotek (cyber coyote).
The film centers on Memo, a young man from a dusty and dry village in México that has to purchase its water from a US corporation that dammed the community’s river sometime in the past. For various reasons, Memo runs away and heads to the border region, where he looks to get illegal nodes implanted by a coyotek so he can work for the sleep dealers, factory-sized work stations for cybraceros (a play on braceros and name of the US’ guest worker project that started in the 40s). While the film focuses on México, workers are imported from just about any region in the world. This causes a certain haze for the worker: where am I? who am I? what am I doing? Memo himself becomes disoriented more than once when he uploads (?) into the body of a construction robot high up on a steel skeleton in San Diego.
The funny thing is that while I was watching the film I started to think, “this is a total rip-off!” A while back I had seen a short faux documentary on PBS about Latin American laborers remotely controlling fruit-picking robots in California, and I thought Sleep Dealer totally lifted its idea. Of course, I came to find out that Alex Rivera made that short film too, way back in the 90s. He worked on expanding that piece into a feature film all the way until Sleep Dealer was finally finished. So with all that hard work and time put into this film, don’t you think you should run out and rent it?