Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Science of Sleep (2006)

Written and Directed by: Michel Gondry
Runtime: 1hr 45mins
Google Play, Amazon Instant

Michel Gondry is the highly creative director behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Jim Emerson (an Editor for wrote this about him (in reference to this film)
"Michel Gondry is a boy genius. Give him a pile of Legos and he might make an animated video of the White Stripes out of them. Give him some egg cartons, boxes, and a shower curtain and perhaps he'll construct an imaginary TV studio, where the programming consists entirely of the dreamer's dreams. Give him some cardboard tubes, and he can build an entire miniature city, complete with skyscrapers, factories and public transportation...
The Science of Sleep is bursting with ingenious handmade retro-toys and gadgets... and cleverly animated miniatures, all low-tech creations made from common recycled household items, like an ocean of cellophane or a thought-transmission device made from bicycle helmets and wire."
He is absolutely right, the set design and props are creatively created with lots of household items and recycled materials rather than CG special effects. This movie has many dream sequences, and considering how strange, random, and often nonsensical dreams are, there had to be an interesting way to create them so we would know that we aren't watching reality. Gondry nailed it.


The film is about Stephane (Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal), a young boy trapped in an adult body. It isn't stated outright that this is the case, but it's obvious that the connection is trying to be made. Stephane's father died recently, and some people going through a tough time revert to a more childlike personality.

Stephane is from Mexico, but his mother is French. His father having died recently, he is told by his mother that there is a creative job available for a graphic artist, so he moves back to France to live in his old apartment. He sleeps in his childhood bed surrounded by his old toys and creations. He mentions to the girl he meets next door that he wants to be an inventor. All of these things allow him to be more absorbed in his childlike world.

The job he ends up taking turns out to be a bit of a lie, it's a job, but it's not creative. He meets Stephanie, who lives across the hall from him and her friend Zoey, and they exchange lies about their jobs, each person not wanting to lose face.

The bigger problem for Stephane, and the main source of intrigue about this film, is that he seems to have a condition in which he can't separate his dreams from reality. He falls asleep, sleepwalks, and this quickly causes trouble for Stephane. He is a slave to his sleep, which usually involves very strange dreams that he can't control. Nor can he control that his actions within these dreams happen in reality as well.

It reminds me of James Thurber's short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, that was expanded into the 1947 film of the same name featuring Danny Kaye. That story sees Walter (a childlike character with an overactive imagination) going about his daily routines unable to stop himself from daydreaming. He always imagines himself doing heroic things and eventually coming back to reality and realizing people are staring at him. Stephane suffers from a fairly similar condition as Walter, except Stephane never really feels heroic.

Much like Jim Carrey's character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we are in the head of Stephane for much of the film. In fact we can literally see inside his head. He is the host of a TV show inside his own mind. The show is made up of his dreams and his everyday life. He can walk over to the windows and pull open the shades and his real eyelids will open and he can see out. It's as if he were a tiny version of himself living inside the head of a life-sized Stephane shell.

Stephane and Stephanie hangout and talk about art projects, and Stephane gets excited like only a child can about the possibility of making an animated film with her about one of her art projects. He suspects that she likes him, and eventually he starts to fall for her too.

While in his head, he explains to us his theory of "Parallel Synchronized Randomness." The example he gives us is when two people are walking the opposite direction at the same time, they have to sidestep to avoid each other, but they make the same decision at the same time, and step the same way. Then they try to correct it, by stepping the other way, again stepping in front of each other.

The more Stephane falls for Stephanie the more he believes his theory is what's behind their relationship. He believes that their brains are evolving each step into the same direction. It seems to me that this clever theory can be used to describe how anyone meets another person to begin with. However, you need something more to really form a relationship. For Stephane, he loves that Stephanie, is a little bit different, she makes things with her hands, her art, her stuffed animals, even her bed loft. He makes things himself, and wants to be an inventor. He likes Stephanie because she is different and everyone else is boring by comparison.

When Stephane tries to explain how things are progressing with Stephanie to Guy (a co-worker), but Guy claims that she will never be with him, to which he angrily replies,
"You don't know what happens between us, no one has a clue what happens between us, and everyone has an opinion."  
I understand his anger. I have felt like yelling this at people before too, because far too often when it comes to relationships (or just people's lives in general) people who are not around, and have no idea what is going on, think they should be allowed to have an opinion about it. As for Stephane's case, he is right that Guy is wrong, but we (the audience) are in Stephane's head, and we can't help but want them to get together.

He tries to show or explain his dream worlds to her, and we get the sense that she may be the only person he's ever met that's taken an interest in his world. We don't really find out whether they will end up together or not, but it's enough that she is there for him. This film is an interesting take on the coming of age story, and it's one of the most interestingly crafted films I've ever seen.

While I mentioned that Gondry's film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind required multiple viewings, I think you can come away with all you need from one viewing of this film. However, this film is interesting enough and good enough to warrant multiple viewings anyway.

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