The Science of Sleep (2006)
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alain Chabat, Miou-Miou, Emma de Caunes, Aurélia Petit, Sacha Bourdo
Directed by: Michel Gondry
After directing two Charlie Kaufman projects (Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), director Michel Gondry apparently felt that Kaufman’s ideas were too structured and realistic. So he set out to make The Science of Sleep, which is the movie you’d get if you took Eternal Sunshine (which Gondry co-wrote), stripped it of any coherency, stuffed it with more fantasy, and set it in Paris.
The Science of Sleep stars Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries) as Stéphane, an imaginative young man who lives in a dream-world in which he is the star of “Stéphane TV”, a talk show dedicated to his life and his theories about creating dreams. Stéphane has trouble at times distinguishing between dreams and reality, which becomes a problem at his mundane job pasting together calendars and with his burgeoning romance with the girl next door, Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg).
Stéphane’s dreams are wonderfully imaginative, put together with stop motion animation of cellophane paper, or within the cardboard studio of Stéphane TV. It’s a lot of fun seeing the world through the mind of Stéphane, making the movie more surrealist than narrative. The problem is when the movie begins to deal with Stéphane’s real life, which is left so ambiguous and undefined that it feels underdeveloped and sloppy.
Some might praise the ambiguity that Gondry gives the movie, believing that it allows the viewer to make its own decisions about what happens, instead of neatly force-feeding it to them. The problem is that the movie doesn’t give the viewer enough with which to make its own decisions. The film gets lost in its own sense of wonder, failing to infuse its characters with enough purpose or motivations to make the venture worthwhile.
The movie feels autobiographical, with Bernal standing in for Gondry as the fanciful artist who refuses to let go of his flights of fancy, even when his imagination isolates him from the outside world. The problem with autobiographical films is that the creators behind them are too close to the subject matter to step back and figure out what it all means. The result is a film high on imagination and emotion, but low on purpose and meaning. If you’re an oft-ignored, artistic man-child, then you’ll probably immediately relate to this movie and not need any perspective. If you’re not, you’ll probably find yourself impressed at times, frustrated at others, and indifferent for the rest. The visuals and performances of the film make it a fun movie, but I can’t help feeling disappointed that a better film was to be had here, if Gondry could have just hunkered down in reality for a few minutes to find it.