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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 6.38%
Average: 19.15%
Pretty Bad: 25.53%
Total Crap: 2.13%

6 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Science of Sleep, The
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by U.J. Lessing

"Sleep little darling; do not cry, and I will sing a lullaby."
5 stars

In the past, horror filmmakers like David Cronenberg, have explored characters that lose the ability to distinguish between reality and their own imagination. The results were always gruesome. Now, Michel Gondry’s most personal project, “The Science of Sleep” takes on a similar motif, however, this time the approach is more philosophical. Gondry never lets his protagonist’s life become transformed into a sickening panorama of delusions, but instead creates a hero who transforms his life into a work of art. The result is a richly textured film that will have you waxing poetic long after you’ve driven out of the theater’s parking lot.

The film introduces us to Stephane (Gael García Bernal), a true “gentle” man in desperate need of a job to drain away some of his imagination’s vigor. For most of us, dreams play only a small part in shaping our reality. In Stephane’s life, reality plays a minor part in his existence. Waking daydreams and night landscapes dictate his being. Stephane’s imagination blends his fancies into the events of reality, making them indistinguishable from each other.

Stephane returns to his childhood home in Paris when his mother finds him a job working for a calendar publisher. Still carrying the emotional weight of his father’s death, Stephane is like a malnourished child hungry for love and companionship. The job proves to be fruitless technical work, and Stephane’s creative energies begin to boil over.

A new outlet for his imagination enters Stephane’s life in the form of Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), an inventive woman who creates fanciful objects out of stuff around her apartment. Stephane begins constructing various objects and inventions to win her over, including a device that shows the world in 3-D, a time machine that takes the user back one second in time, and a galloping toy horse.

While Stephanie is deeply in love with Stephane’s artistic sensibilities, she knows that his frail grasp of reality has given him the emotional maturity of a child. These flaws keep her at bay and limit their relationship to a friendship. Yet, they both recognize that they are two parts of a whole. Stephanie’s true feelings bleed through Stephane’s consciousness and into his dreams.

“The Science of Sleep” relies heavily on surrealism, but it’s not the sharp hallucinogenic surrealism of Dali or Buñuel. This is the type of surrealism one would find in a child’s picture book. Particularly striking are sequences that pay homage to the illustrations of Maurice Sendak. Think In the Night Kitchen.

As for the story, it’s a bit stagnant, but so is a beautiful pond or a vibrant marsh. The story relies less on major plot points and more on complex layering and satisfying characters.

The acting is emotive and poignant. Particularly impressive are the supporting characters, who are as fleshed out as the primary characters. Stephane’s co-worker, Guy (Alain Chabat), a rowdy, vulgar ham who comprehends Stephane’s mix of artistry and life, could be the subject of a separate film.

“The Science of Sleep” weaves together the themes of children’s creativity, the contrast of a child’s love for a parent and an adult’s love for a parent, essential art, and the melancholy creativity of the artist to create a truly wondrous masterwork.

Michel Gondry has produced the best poetic film since “Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.” This is an important work that should not be missed. “The Science of Sleep” is probably not a film for everyone, but in a perfect world where dreamers and artists were celebrated, it would be.

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originally posted: 09/06/06 10:08:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/03/08 Samantha Pruitt Amelie + Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind = this movie, a little less, imaginative 3 stars
1/26/08 James from Dublin imaginative,thought provoking,beautiful film,loved Laura Faggioni's designs,clouds,horse 4 stars
10/29/06 jcjs so fine..i thought 'Scanner Darkly the smartest of the year until this.even with no words 5 stars
10/15/06 Heather The scene involving the electric shaver is priceless 4 stars
10/02/06 Mike This film has made my list of all time favorites. I love Gondry and Garcia. 5 stars
10/02/06 Jim the Movie Freak One of the best films of the past five years. 5 stars
9/22/06 Guido Whimsy and imagination, these days, seems lost on people. A great film. 5 stars
9/13/06 veronique not my kind of movie 3 stars
9/13/06 Edward Connell IMAGINATION? You will need one to follow the storyline. 3 stars
6/20/06 Blackbrain You can only take from this film what you brought to the theater. 4 stars
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  22-Sep-2006 (R)
  DVD: 06-Feb-2007



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