REVIEW: The Science of Sleep [2006]

“Will you marry me when you’re seventy and have nothing to lose?”

Michel Gondry’s first foray into that of solo writer/director has finally been released outside the festival circuit. The Science of Sleep was created without the help of writing collaborator Charlie Kaufmann whose scripts for Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were brought to the screen by the visual prowess of Gondry. There is a void apparent as the story is not as tight and coherent, (if you can call a Kaufmann script either), as his past work. This is not a detriment to the finished product however. Gondry has delved deep into his subconscious and deeply hidden emotions to create a magical journey between reality and dream as two people come together and start a relationship as awkward as all are in real life. His secrets and embarrassing memories are lyrically woven together into a mesmerizing piece of visual poetry that can only have come from the mind of a true dreamer.

The Science of Sleep will not be for everyone. While true to life and relatable for many kindred spirits, the film is not accessible to those not willing to take the trip into fantasy. We are shown a blurring of the line for what is real at every instance, switching between three languages, live-actors, animation, and a combining of all these elements at one time. Anyone who has seen Gondry’s work with music videos, (I highly recommend his volume included in the Director’s Series put out by himself and friends Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham as all seven volumes show remarkable artistic work), will be familiar with the otherworldly effects used here. Everything is done by hand, meticulously animated and spliced in through camera tricks or blue screen backdrops. Gondry had poured his heart onscreen and while history shows many cinematic attempts at this fail, becoming pretentious headtrips, this film hits home with its’ melding of comedy and drama, laughter and heartbreak.

Much credit needs to go to actors Gael García Bernal, (always wonderful, I’m highly anticipating how he is utilized in Iñárritu’s Babel) and Charlotte Gainsbourg, (radiant and wonderful as she was in 21 Grams, coincidentally by Iñárritu). Gondry has trusted them with his soul and they have trusted the material in turn. Where at many times the movie could have turned its absurdity to unacceptable lengths, these two bring it back and ground it with truly heartwrenching emotion. Bernal’s Stéphane can’t seem to delineate between reality and dream, causing instances of truth to be spoken accidentally and times of paranoia and low self-worth to cause chaos in situations that are actually working. Gainsbourg’s Stéphanie also has a sense of duplicity, being a woman who cannot allow someone she loves close enough to let him hurt her, so in turn she hurts him and her both. These two are meant for each other, but it can never work outside of a dream. Stéphane is a child who’s emotions flip at a second’s turn and Stéphanie is a stubborn girl who can’t realize she is leading others on by showing her affection but shutting down when it is returned. When she is in Bernal’s head apologizing for what her real-life counterpart has done, it is heart-breaking because you realize she truly doesn’t know what she is doing him. Likewise, when he turns on her for incidents he has manifested in his mind, it shows on her face the hurt of finally opening to him, but too late.

Mention needs to be made for Alain Chabat, as his comic relief is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise solemn reality. He knows how a relationship of this kind will end, but he tries to help his friend through it, in order for him to see for himself. Also, Gondry has outdone himself with his animations. The craft undertaken is amazing; worlds are made from cardboard tubes, liquids from cellophane bits, and reality from knitted fabric. He has truly put his stamp on this film creatively, physically, and spiritually. Love is a complicated entity that sometimes needs more than love itself. People cross in life for a moment of utter happiness, which can turn to pain quickly from one’s inability to allow themselves that joy. The Science of Sleep is a film that will stay with you and make you think of the moments you let slip by. The final frame leaves a hope for the future and a knowledge that a love can be revisited in memory; it can’t be taken from you no matter what.

The Science of Sleep 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

[1] Alain Chabat (Guy) and Gael García Bernal (Stephane) in director Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, a Warner Independent Pictures release. Photo credit: Etienne George.
[2] Gael García Bernal (Stephane) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (Stephanie) in director Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, a Warner Independent Pictures release.


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