by Erin Salvi
Michel Gondry, director of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” brings us yet another visually and psychologically dazzling film with “The Science of Sleep.”
Like “Eternal Sunshine,” “The Science of Sleep” explores complex issues of the mind. This time, though, Gondry deals with what influences our dreams, how much control we have over them, and how much they end up controlling us.
I can’t quite imagine this film having been created by anyone but Gondry, as so much of the film is dependent on the visual world of magical realism that he so masterfully composes.
The film focuses on Stephane (Gael García Bernal), a shy, inventive young man. Stephane moves to Paris because his mother has promised to get him a job as a creative artist for a calendar-making firm.
On his first day of work, however, Stephane discovers that the only opportunity he’ll have for creativity in his new job will be in finding innovative ways to avoid going to work.
After coming to terms with the fact that his mother lured him to Paris with a devastatingly boring job so that he would be close to her, Stephane begins to concentrate his energy on his enchanting neighbor, who happens to be named Stephanie.
Stephane and Stephanie seem to hit it off at first, but Stephane’s tendency to let his dream-life interfere with his waking hours begins to negatively affect their relationship.
Gondry gets a little lost in his storytelling, but it hardly matters because visually, this film is mesmerizing. Gondry creates a stark contrast between the bland atmosphere of the office where Stephane works and the world he enters when he falls asleep. This world includes everything from a talk-show-style television program starring Stephane, cities constructed from cardboard toilet-paper rolls, and oceans made of cellophane.
Gondry so draws his audience into the world he has formed that Stephane’s confusion between dreams and the real world transfers over to the audience—sometimes it is difficult to tell if what you are watching is a dream or if it is reality. But this is all intentional, all a part of Gondry’s adept command of his craft.
In addition to the stunning visual elements of the film, Bernal’s performance is captivating. As Stephane switches back and forth from fantasy to reality, Bernal is both whimsical and bashful, confident and vulnerable, love-struck and love-phobic—always with a quiet but electric energy pouring forth from his core.
The ease with which Bernal slips into his character perfectly allows Gondry to explore his central question: if our dreams can provide us with happier, more fulfilling lives, is it a problem if we wish to reside in them all the time?
Maybe, Gondry says. However, he seems to suggest that if two people can together recreate the ecstasy of a dream-life within their reality, it will result in the ideal, euphoric life to which we all aspire. But Gondry shows us that this is no easy feat; “The Science of Sleep” demonstrates that the science of life is a nearly impossible formula to master, but it is this “nearly” that leaves us with hope, if not certainty.
Here’s hoping someone will bring this movie to Walla Walla, because it is fantastic.