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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 brianorndorf

"Sure it looks neat, but where's the substance"
2 stars

As much as I can respect the craftsmanship and imagination of a Michel Gondry film, I’m unable to find anything resembling a genuine emotion in anything he creates. “The Science of Sleep” is his latest excess in cutesy artifice, and it dies under the care of a filmmaker who loves visual playfulness, but can’t seem to have the same fun with the human characters.

Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) has returned to his childhood home, taking a dead-end job he hopes will allow time for his morbid creativity. Alternately cursed/blessed with an active dream life, Stephane tries to control his wild fantasies when he meets his neighbor, Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and is instantly smitten. Unable to woo the object of his desire the way he imagines, Stephane hides within the doorways of his mind, escaping to a fantasy world when reality becomes far too much to bear.

I have great respect for director Michel Gondry. He’s a mischievous visual artist with a geyser of imagination shooting through him. Still, as creatively filmed as his productions have been (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Human Nature”), I’ve found them to be, emotionally speaking, cold fishes. For “Science,” Gondry has assumed screenwriting duties from his regular collaborator, Charlie Kaufman; however, “Science” can’t shake the feeling of Kaufman’s leftovers, even when emboldened by Gondry’s loving ingenuity, it still tastes like day old bread.

At its worst, “Science” is quite derivative of “Sunshine,” yet again taking characters down a water slide of mental defragging and softly nursed puppy love. Both stories concern men who are losing their grip on reality, shedding adored women in the process. “Science” establishes its tone through Stephane, a man-child who enjoys his flight of dreamtime fancy, and has trouble returning to Earth. The film highlight is clearly the work from Gael Garcia Bernal, who after spending substantial time playing dour characters in recent movies, embraces the beaming purity of spirit within Stephane, and also demonstrates a ripe gift for comedy. He’s fantastic here.

Gondry has a field day thinking up ways to illustrate Stephane’s dream world. The most extensive work is done on the stage of Stephane’s literal subconscious talk show, where the character cooks up his thoughts on a stove, or takes his sleeping mind to abstract locations to enact revenge on his co-workers or further flog the idea of romancing Stephanie.

Once this sleeping “Fantasia” world is established, Gondry works like a madman embellishing Stephane’s cellophane dreams, using copious amounts of stop-motion animation and rear-projection to provide the twinkle. Of course, this all looks terrific, but the artifice tends to suffocate the intent, wounding the film’s sweet side, and showing severe strain as the workmanship begins to interfere with the story.

Soon, the question arises, “Who do these visuals truly serve?” “Sleep” goes beyond simply embellishing the tinkering mind of Stephane to an annoying grandstanding scale, where Gondry seems preoccupied by his technical wizardry rather than making sure his story is keeping perfect time.

However, there is solace to be had in the end during Stephane’s mental burnout; instead of romanticizing it, “Science” sees it to its more likely, darker conclusion. Unfortunately, to best appreciate this finale, it requires a major investment in the characters, and that’s something that Gondry never quite achieves.

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originally posted: 09/22/06 15:58:27
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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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