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.