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‘The Science of Sleep’ (2006) is Michel Gondry’s third feature film after ‘Human Nature’ and the popular ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. It stars Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, and Miou-Miou.
‘The Science of Sleep’ is the story of Stephane Miroux (García), a graphic artist, whose mother (Miou-Miou) tricks him to return to Paris from Mexico after his father’s death. The entire film is a joy to watch and further proof – if you need it – of Gondry’s artistic skill at translating what’s inside his head onto the screen. He translates universal dream experiences in a way that makes you think, okay, I know what’s going on here. So, when Stephane’s hands are larger than his body, or he dives out the office window into the sky above the city and starts to swim, or he takes a bath with his only female colleague, Martin, (who has become his secretary in the dream) in cellophane, or he tries to escape the police in his cardboard car (referencing Goddard’s ‘Breathless’) it all makes sense because it’s a dream world and we all know how crazy things happen effortlessly and normally in our dreams.
The wonder of Gondry is that there is so much going on. The animation and the live action work together as one world, Stephane’s world. What happens in the real world influences the dream world: Stephane takes the bath with Martin because Guy (Chabat), the guy at work who has taken him under his wing, constantly alludes to Martin’s imagined nakedness and lewd things she could do with Stephane.
The script is witty with quotes like these:
Tonight I’ll show you how dreams are prepared … Stephane at the start of the film on STEPHANE TV
Stephane: It’s like touching your penis with your left hand.
Stephanie: I don’t have a penis.
Stephane: But you have a left hand.
Stephanie: Randomness is very difficult to achieve … organisation always merges back if you don’t pay attention.
Stephane: Death to organisation.
… as they try to create the perfect sea with cellophane
One of my favourite scenes would be with Stephane and Stephanie playing with huge pieces of cottonwool trying to create clouds for the animated world. Only when Stephane finds the right chords on the piano, do the clouds stay suspended just below the ceiling.
‘The Science of Sleep’ is fun, visually exciting and certainly entertaining. The one thing missing for me, was emotion. There was emotion within the film and you could understand what characters were experiencing because you had probably experienced most of those things yourself. For me, however, I was only an observer and never drawn into the world enough, I didn’t find myself invested in the characters enough to care what happened to them, I was merely along for the ride.
The downside of this for me, is that it makes me see all the work that went into making the film, rather than all the fun that was had. When a film draws me in and makes me care about the characters and the entire world on the screen, I am inspired to make something like what I have just seen or just to make something. When I am not drawn into the world this doesn’t happen. I can appreciate the artistry, or the lack thereof, when I am more distant, but I am not inspired. And this is how Gondry has let me down. His work on this film was clearly inspired with references to other films, books, and his personal life floating onto the screen, but for me it is not inspiring.