The Science of Sleep
- The Science of Sleep
Director: Michael Gondry
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal
Gael Garcia Bernal never fails to deliver. Coming to the attention of world audiences with his role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s acclaimed “Amores Perros”, Bernal went on to be nominated for Mexico’s Silver Ariel Award (Mexico’s equivalent of the Oscars). He is perhaps best known for his role in Alfonso Cuaron’s sexy road film “Y Tu Mama Tambien”, Bernal has gained the reputation of a mature actor despite his relatively young age. He is a linguist, speaking in many different tongues throughout his films but what is notable about The Science of Sleep is that it is Bernal’s first film where he is speaks mostly French throughout.
The Science of Sleep can only really be described as ‘weird’ or ‘intriguing’ but these descriptions are designed to put filmgoers off. In this case, don’t let it. The Science of Sleep is weird because it is supposed to be. It is certainly reminiscent of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet) which incidentally (or not so incidentally) was also filmed and co–produced by Gondry. The film is visually very unique, as is the content and outline, intriguing the audience, raising plenty of laughs and is also baffling at the same time. Many will walk out of the cinema and proclaim that it is so strange, barbarian and mind boggling that they didn’t enjoy it and would probably not recommend it. Gondry’s ‘weird’ element in the film though is what makes it so good. It doesn’t have to be fully understood – and this is indeed the point. It is a film about reality, perception, the world of dreams and an individual’s inability to separate his dreams from reality. The point is that our dreams are never truly understood; they are wacky, inexplicable and downright odd and it is this portrayal of dreams that makes the film so special.
Since he was a child, Stephane Miroux (Bernal) has had problems separating his dreams from reality and growing into his twenties has not changed him a bit. His dreams are beginning to take over and ordinary life begins to intrude into his dreamscape. In his mind, Stephane is an authority on The Science of Sleep and he dreams a programme called “Stephane TV” where he is the host and elements from his life become involved, as do his family and friends.
The film opens with Stephane presenting a cooking show on “Stephane TV” where he mixes together random thoughts, reminiscences of the day, memories, love, songs and images. He demonstrates how dreams are prepared. Meanwhile, the real Stephane returns home to Paris and starts a job with a calendar publicist. Stunned to discover that his work provides no scope for creativity, Stephane shows his boss his “disastrology” drawings of earthquakes and plane crashes but his creativity is unappreciated. Soon, Stephane’s dreams are littered with images of the office life he becomes to loathe.
Stephane meets his new neighbour Stephanie and her friend Zoe, who mistake him for being an injured piano mover. He takes great pains to disguise the fact that he is the landlady’s son who lives across the hall. Stephane is undeniably first attracted to Zoe but he discovers a kindred spirit in Stephanie who shares his love for handcrafting whimsical and unusual objects. Stephanie, although charmed by Stephane’s sweetness and quirkiness, becomes increasingly confused by his inability to decide what is real and what is not and she makes it very clear that they can only be friends. Later Stephane dreams that he writes a best–selling novel called “I am just your neighbour and a liar. By the way, do you have Zoe’s number?” The initial attraction Stephane had for Zoe is one the major points of the film and Stephanie feels constantly downtrodden by her more attractive and flirtatious friend, resenting Stephane for being attracted to her. However, it is Stephanie who Stephane really wants and he constantly tries to woo her with his marvellous inventions, including a primitive time machine. It does not matter how much Stephane persists, Stephanie is always put off by his inexplicable behaviour. Thus, Stephane turns his dreams to search for the answer to Stephanie’s heart.
What must be noted about this film is just how funny it is. The characters Stephane has to work with are possibly the funniest, stealing the scenes they are in and are all so awful that one can empathise with Stephane and understand why he hates his job. The clever juxtaposition of the two main characters is masterful; Stephane full of quirky, childlike fantasies versus Stephanie who is more mature in mind but not necessarily in body. She also has a very childlike quality to her but is a lot more aware of the world. For example, when Stephane shows her the glasses he has invented to show the world as 3D, she says that life is 3D already. The oblivious Stephane cannot see this.
The film oscillates between dreams and reality and the audience gets lost in “Stephane TV”. There is a point where there is complete silence in the film except a very faint voice–over that actually has the power to make the audience feel as though they are drifting off to sleep – a very clever and apt manipulation of the human senses.
The Science of Sleep is a real mixture of life, perception, animation and craftwork. The use of animation for Stephane’s dream world, although looking very handmade and childlike, looks ahead of it’s time in terms of quality. The difference and non–difference between the two worlds is very effective, but the film is not purely about dreams. The central theme is the relationship betwixt Stephane and Stephanie and the fact that Stephane is indeed a little insane, partly why Stephanie and is not attracted to Stephane (despite Gael Garcia Bernal being extremely easy on the eyes).
Gondry implies that a dream is a like a stew with lots of ingredients being mixed up together, but he also implies that dreams are a science. It is clear that he does not believe that all dreams should be mythologized and made into symbols. Everyone has his or her own associations. Memory has to be explored and dreams have to be interpreted as a science in their own right.
I highly recommend The Science of Sleep for its sheer originality, bilingualism, fantastic acting, hilarious script and the fact that is takes Film to new heights in terms of audience perception, animation and style.