To describe the plot of The Science of Sleep would be like giving war plans to Ghandi, it just isn’t going to serve anyone. But by avoiding a normal narrative, this film, authored and directed by Michel Gondry, is paying homage to its topic; dreams. The film revolves around Stephane, played by Gael García Bernal, who returns to Paris from Mexico at the request (or deception, we never really can conclude) of his French mother. He finds himself living in a pretty mediocre apartment in a pretty mediocre area of Paris, but across the hall from Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Stephane, who has always had trouble distinguishing dreams from reality, immediately becomes enamored with Stephanie and the off and on relationship between the two is the basis of the film.
That being said, there is so much more of The Science of Sleep that can be added to its description, however at the same time I’ve already had to make several assumptions based on my interpretation of the film. The fact that the audience is forced to make conclusions and assumptions throughout the film is what makes it entertaining, and challenging. The underlying themes of the film are exposed in Stephan’s dream sequences, which in themselves are often hard to interpret let alone the task put on the audience to decipher their metaphorical content. What makes viewing this film even more challenging is the fact that the Stephane’s reality, filled with falling pianos, a weird mother, and whacked out coworkers, is hard to distinguish from his dreams. Multiple times in the film I believed that I was watching a dream, only to be surprised that it was the reality of Stephan’s life and vice versa.
The Science of Sleep earned my respect for the fact that it challenges its audience like very few films these days are willing to do. By essentially placing us in the puffy armchair and his script on the couch, Gondry invites the audience to not just observe his work, but to become an active participant in it. Of course, Gondry’s directorial skill, which proved brilliant in his collaboration with writer Charlie Kaufman in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, is put to excellent use in The Science of Sleep. The dream sequences in the hands of a less talented director would seem overbearing or comical, but instead come across as true emotion with Gondry’s skill.
What surprised me most in The Science of Sleep was the fact that, despite its surrealistic tone, it provided some of the most poignant emotion I’ve seen in a film for a while. As I wander more and more into the thick twentysomething malaise that Stephane finds himself locked in, the issues raised in the film certainly carried some weight with them. Locked in a dead end job in a basement, Stephane’s dreams are a delightful exit from what we increasingly observe is a pretty bleak reality.
Now would be a good time to digress into the film’s other main plot; Stephane’s job. This part of the film often provided some of the best laughs as Stephane tries to keep up his work surrounded by pretty acidic personalities. Most enjoyable is his coworker Guy (Alain Chabat) who seems to enjoy nothing more than to torment his coworkers, constantly calling them “fags” and throwing them in garbage cans.
Unfortunately, for all of the films hidden delights, we must wade though an immense amount of extra material that seems irrelevant. Also, by the end of the film we start to wonder why Stephanie, who seems reasonably normal, still puts up with entertaining the notion of dating Stephane. As Stephane’s attempts to court Stephanie continue, they start to seem more and more pathetic at best, and disturbingly obsessive at worst.
Still for a movie season that is seeing the likes of Flyboys, All the King’s Men, and, ugh… The Covenant, The Science of Sleep is head and shoulders above its peers and worth a view.