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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 Collin Souter

"So much for the spotless mind"
5 stars

(SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL) Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep exists in a world where if you throw something up in the air, it will stay afloat provided you play the right notes on a piano. It exists to interpret our dreams through a high-energy cable access cooking show, rather than through a longwinded guru with a tarot deck. It’s an astonishing, original vision that could have easily drowned itself in its own whimsy, but yet it conveys the harsh, simple truths about relationships in a way that made Gondry’s last film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, such a monumental achievement. This carries the vision even further.

This is a movie that knows our minds well, yet it exists in the mind of a man who has trouble discerning between dreams and reality. The man is a timid graphics artist named Staphane (Gael Garcia Bernal), who has just moved from France to Mexico after his father has passed away. He takes his old room in an apartment building run by his mother and reluctantly takes a job designing calendars devoted to nude women, even though he has a grander idea of designing a calendar centered on human tragedy.

Soon, he meets his next door neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her best friend, whom he finds slightly more attractive, yet at the same time he finds that he has more in common with Stephanie. As he looks around her apartment, he finds that she has the same sense of dreamlike whimsy as he does. The two speak a whole new language around each other and end up planning to make a short movie scene bearing a resemblance to Noah’s Ark out of some knickknacks and cellophane. Stephanie also takes a liking and understanding to Stephane’s impractical and improbable inventions that are not unlike time machines.

Staphane chalks this commonality to a rare phenomenon he refers to as Parallel Synchronized Randomness, in which two people who share the same thought pattern will find each other and synch up in a way that wouldn’t be thought possible. Yet, there still exists a strong divide between Stephane and Stephanie. He can’t see her in his dreams, but desperately wants to. In real life, she shows no interest in becoming someone’s significant other, but will gladly indulge in his whimsical impulses out of friendship.

There are two worlds here: The real one and Stephane’s dream world, which are brought to playful and astonishing life via claymation, stop-motion and the kind of visual flair that has made Gondry an icon in the music video realm. Fans of Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Juenet and Guy Madden will have plenty of eye candy to gawk at. These are real dreams brought to life and they make don’t make any more sense than our own, yet often in our minds, our own dreams do make sense because of the connections we make with them. I’m not 100% sure why the cars in Stephane’s dreams are all made of cardboard, but I’ll bet he does.

The movie also uses dreams to explore how our minds work in relationships. There is a slight tug of war going on between Stephane and Stephanie, but the movie treats their relationship like any other, with the same consequences, the same arguments and the same sense of betrayal and longing. But Stephane is like a lot of us, not always saying what needs to be said at the time, but sometimes saying exactly what shouldn’t be said. He believes he has found a kindred spirit who shares the same world he does, but does she really?

Bernal’s performance as Stephane is a wonderful mixture of silent comedy, nebbishness and sweet disposition. At once disarmingly charming, deeply flawed and ultimately tragic, Stephane is a character that could have easily detached us from the story. Yet it’s amazing how many layers Bernal and Gondry (who also wrote the screenplay) add to Stephane’s psyche, right up until the film’s final moments. This is a weird guy, but one we can still understand. We want him to do better, but what happens to him is what happens to many of us after a blow to the ego. We become grown, powerless children.

The Science of Sleep is a movie that demands to be seen more than once, but it’s something of a miracle that a movie this complex and this beautiful—not to mention, damn funny—can resonate so strongly on first viewing. It invites comparisons to Gilliam’s Brazil as well as the aforementioned Eternal Sunshine, but that’s to be taken as the highest compliment rather than critic’s shorthand. No single review can do this movie justice, just like no single dream can sum up your whole life. It can take more time than you have to sift through it. The more you think about it, the deeper it goes.

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originally posted: 01/24/06 17:00:51
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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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