‘The Science of Sleep’

Before I even knew the name Michel Gondry I had already been exposed to his unique aesthetic sensibility through his music videos for artists such as Björk, Daft Punk, Massive Attack and Cibo Matto. I can remember sitting particularly transfixed in front of the television watching his music video for Björk’s “Army of Me”, completely in awe of the manic and surreal landscape of exploding museums and diamond-eating tanks. I was truly converted to Gondry’s fan club after I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and was further won over after he both penned and directed The Science of Sleep (2006). The absence of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s imprint on the script turned off some viewers; however, I am happy to go on any ride that Monsieur Gondry wants to take me.

I get excited by little things I don’t know, I get excited to know more about what’s inside people’s hearts and by the magic in the world.

– Michel Gondry

During the fantastic opening sequence of The Science of Sleep, the film’s protagonist (Stéphane, played by Gael García Bernal) introduces viewers to the activity of dreaming: “People think it’s a very simple and easy process, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. As you can see, a very delicate combination of complex ingredients is the key. First, we put in some random thoughts and then we add a little bit reminiscences of the day, mixed with some memories of the past…Love, friendships, relationships and all those ships, together with songs you heard during the day, things you saw…” Placing all these seemingly intangible ideas into a pot, they are visually represented through various objects, such as spaghetti, perfume, vinyl singles and an unidentified brown fluid. For the premise of the film is not merely dreams, but also games of make believe where television sets are constructed from cardboard, telephones are made from felt and buttons, cotton wool clouds float on apartment ceilings and the distinction between reality and dream is conflated.

For me, the romantic narrative between Stéphane and Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is secondary to the cinematic exploration of dreaming, whereby Gondry weaves a hallucinatory aesthetic into the fabric of the film. Indeed, as The Science of Sleep progresses it becomes more difficult to navigate the film’s stream of consciousness representations of waking and reverie, but what is particularly exciting is that Gondry achieves this through handmade wizardry rather than conventional special effects. Adopting a do-it-yourself aesthetic, which is also employed to full effect in Be Kind Rewind (2008), the central idea behind the narrative suggests that you can fabricate your own reality, but to be wary of the power of the dreamworld that you create.

In true Gondry style, it is a joyous ode to imagination and fantasy and never letting go of childlike impulses. The innocent sense of wonderment that infiltrates the entire film places the viewer directly within the strange interior spaces of Stéphane’s consciousness. It’s a pretty amazing place to be.


5 Comments ‘The Science of Sleep’

  1. cravenmaven September 23, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    I have always meant to see this film but never had…imagination and fantasy are two of my most favourite ingredients, will have to check it out..I loved ESotSM and let us not forget the episode of Flight of the Conchords he directed (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cGoDns8wTA) one of my top 5 fave eps.

  2. José Luis September 23, 2010 at 8:20 PM

    My oh my, I love this movie. You totally nail it.

  3. Anna September 24, 2010 at 12:45 AM

    I love this film…its amazing. I was lucky enough to buy it for £2.99! I have watched it many times. The sets are beyond brilliant.

  4. Gerlin September 25, 2010 at 5:47 AM

    This is my favourite film ever… I love it so so much. I wrote my bachelorpaper on music video aesthetic in Jonze’s and Gondry’s work and am really happy that I picked Eternal Sunshine and not this one to work on with Gondry. You see, I can’t watch Eternal Sunshine for probably the next 5 years because I’ve been analysing it too much. I wouldn’t want that to happen to Science of Sleep. I saw it in the cinema back in the day and it just absolutely blew me away. What a gem. I love Gondry dearly, such a creative spirit.

  5. Danica van de Velde September 26, 2010 at 2:01 AM

    @ cravenmaven Based on your love of ESofSM and Gondry’s episode for Flight of the Conchords I think you will definitely like The Science of Sleep. Let me know after you’ve watched it.

    @ José Luis Thank you muchly!

    @ Anna It’s a score for that price. And yes, the sets are one of my favourite parts of the film too.

    @ Gerlin I completely understand what you mean: after you have spent ages analysing a film it really starts to lose its charm. Your bachelor paper sounds like an excellent topic!

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