DVD Review: The Science of Sleep

Michel Gondry, who mastered surreal psychology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind returns with this tenderly constructed portrait of an over-sensitive dreamer. Mexican Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) has moved to France, tempted by his Gallic mother's offer of a supposedly creative job at a calendar company. Staying in his childhood bedroom, he falls in love with his adorable neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsborough) – but not before casting a pall over their relationship with a mistake he makes due to his tendency to confuse imagination and reality.

The first thing that struck me about The Science of Sleep was its immediacy. Hand-held cameras and natural sound make reality seem just like reality – while steadicams, cardboard buildings and stop-motion animation denote the world of Stéphane's dreams. There's a glorious hand-made feel to these latter sequences, as if each car, cloud and building was created by Stéphane himself from loo rolls, cellophane and glue. If nothing else, it's nice to see some real craftsmanship in a contemporary movie, in the place of the often soulless barage of CGI.

As in Eternal Sunshine, Gondry shows a keen, almost painful ability to convey the ups and downs of love, from moments of energetic creative connection, to depressive, drunken jealousy. As an added dimension, flowing from that comes a perfect depiction of dream logic – barely coherent declarations of love, peculiar causes and effects, arguments based on semantics rather than actualities. At the collision of these two planes is Stéphane, able to imagine his hopes and fears with equal vividness, self-centred, self-defeating and moody – a lot like a certain blogging space cat you may know.

The Science of Sleep had me alternating between being on the verge of tears during Stéphane's painful waking moments of heartbreak, and laughing at the sheer brilliance of his imagination. In places these dream sequences betray Gondry's background as a music video director – but so what? If destroying the world with an enormous plasticine volcano isn't sufficient cause for a rock anthem, I don't think anything is.

Given that the back of the DVD case promises a film about 'imagination vs logic' it's refreshing to see the film take an entirely positive approach to science – musing pseudo-scientifically on black holes and brain chemistry. You have to understand how things work, be able to appreciate the peculiar and surprising before you can create; have to understand a little chaos theory and electronics to make a tiny robot horse – though whether Stéphane actually does make a tiny robot horse is debatable. Stéphane's inability to distinguish reality from dreams overflows into the film itself, especially where he sucks Stéphanie into his flights of fancy – making cotton wool clouds float in the air with a resonant note played on the piano.

With its combination of everyday ambience and out-of-this-world imagination, The Science of Sleep is perhaps the film for the hopeless dreamers among us. While it may not efface Eternal Sunshine in the eyes of many, I found it to be one of the most touching films I can name.


Geosomin said...

I really enjoyed this movie too...touching and surreal...brilliant and sad. I loved that all the effects were all "real"...it had so much emotion and thought put into it. I loved how it could be so real and surreal at the same time.
Now I'm going to have to go rent it again...right after I watch Daywatch

gnome said...

How very very interesting... And that's despite not particularly enjoying Eternal Sunshine...

FUNNYMAN said...

I have always wanted to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It looks like such a unique movie.

Debbie Schramer said...

Your blog is fabulous, thanks for being different and funny and interesting! I have seen "The Science of Sleep" at the video stores but haven't rented it yet. I love the title so much! it's great. We don't watch R rated movies, does this one have anything really offensive? I love that it has stop motion animation, and just handmade things. I am an artist, so I would love to see a film that has some real imagination in it. Michel Gondry is fantastic so this movie sounds really inspiring and moving!
Have you seen Be kind, rewind, yet? I love the official website. It's really something!

Pacian said...

@Gnome + Funnyman: Personally, I much prefer Science of Sleep to Eternal Sunshine.

"Your blog is fabulous, thanks for being different and funny and interesting!"

Oh don't, you'll make me blush. Thank you. ;-)

"We don't watch R rated movies, does this one have anything really offensive?"

That's a difficult question, as everyone has a different view of what's offensive. I didn't think there was anything offensive about the film itself, although one of the characters is a bit of an outspoken curmudgeon. There's also some frank but inexplicit sexual references, if that bothers you.

"Have you seen Be kind, rewind, yet?"

Not yet, I'm afraid. My film-going buddy is on the other side of the country.