Don’t go to ‘Sleep’ on ‘Science’

Ally Melling

Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg have a dance in the surreal film The Science of Sleep. PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER INDEPNDENT

Credit: Jason Hall

Sigmund Freud once said, “Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.”

By this standard, writer/director Michel Gondry has once again spotlighted himself as one of the few modern filmmakers to delve deep beneath the normal cinematic crust.

Best known as the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and music videos for artists such as The White Stripes and Massive Attack, Gondry now brings his audience another film that explores the surreal boundaries between waking reality and the limitless mind.

The Science of Sleep tells the story of Stephane Miroux (The Motorcycle Diaries‘ Gael Garcia Bernal), a Mexican who goes to live with his mother in Paris after the death of his father. In his mother’s vast apartment building, Stephane meets Stephanie, an arts and crafts junkie played by Charlotte Gainsbourg (21 Grams).

The two become friends while creating playful fantasies that intermingle with Stephane’s own overbearing dreams. Stephane turns to his own frantic unconsciousness for escape as he becomes bent on winning Stephanie over romantically. But will his boundless imagination reveal the answers to help him capture Stephanie’s heart?

Unmistakably, the highlights of the film are hinted in the title. The real Gondrian flair explodes as Stephane tries to comprehend the structure within sleep both while dreaming and being awake. An incredible world of stop-motion animation and camera trickery sets this film apart from others and shows audiences why Gondry is talented enough to stand sans a Charlie Kaufman writing credit.

The film plunges into the surreal with cellophane water, galloping stuffed animals and drastically enlarged hands. Cardboard is also heavily used to construct Stephane’s dream-induced television studio, get-away vehicle and mini-metropolis.

Gondry’s style is not all cutesy eye-candy. Throughout the film, Stephane displays wildly creative inventions that other

characters passively accept, one of which is a time machine brought to life by the director’s clever editing tact. Gondry’s straight, handheld camera-feel of cinematography and clever mixture of English, French and Spanish are also distinguishing.

Aside from being just a good looking actor, Gael Garcia Bernal again shows audiences how talented and diverse an actor he can be. Bernal fully balances Stephane’s childlike innocence and imaginative spirit with his irrational sadness, crudity and jealousy. He also adds a subtle humor to his character as he is tossed, borderless, from world to world. It’s an entertaining portrayal that is pulled off literally with flying colors.

The entire supporting cast is also very strong the length of the film, especially Stephane’s horny, 40-something co-worker, Guy (Alain Chabat). Guy’s funny, constant discussions about sex spill over into Stephane’s dream world, illustrating his belief that life events manifest themselves in the unconscious.

On a down note, The Science of Sleep progresses plot-wise like Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers: a lot happens producing little outcome. There is nothing wrong with an ambiguous ending (i.e. The Graduate), but The Science of Sleep leaves the audience with an unaccomplished feel that physically hurts when the credits roll. While the mesmerizing special-effect worlds are the main draw of the film, their sporadic nature and lack of even flow seem to steal something from the story’s structure.

The Science of Sleep employs the whimsical randomness that brought Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind its fan base, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they are the same kind of movie. While they both deal with the complexity of relationships and the inner workings of the mind, The Science of Sleep seems a little less guided.

Nevertheless, this film has enough artistic sincerity and cool visuals to make the adventure well worth an admission ticket or even a future purchase. In fact, you won’t believe your eyes.

Contact ALL reporter Ally Melling at [email protected].


Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat

Directed by: Michel Gondry

Distributed by: Warner Independent Pictures (U.S), Gaumont (France)

Rated R for language, some sexual content and nudity

Stater rating (out of five): ????