The Science of Sleep
Wild and imaginative, Michel Gondry loves playing around with props, whether they’re papier-mâché houses or cellophane water. His world is like a different universe, and its reality is not too trustworthy. In The Science of Sleep, the world is openly just a dream, making the rules of Gondry-aesthetics perfectly applicable.
Life is a dream – that’s surreal. So let’s start with a small history of surrealist cinema. Of course it didn’t start and end with Inception, no. It was the very group that started the surrealist movement itself that discovered the potential of surrealism in film. The most prominent example from the 20s being Un Chien Andalou (1929), of course. Co-directed by Dalí and Luis Buñuel, it features one of the most haunting scenes in movie history to date, the famous eyeball-slicing, which is referenced in too many movies to count. Everyone knows Dalí now, whereas Buñuel is still an insider’s tip (one to consider though).The first surreal image is pure horror. And that’s basically what followed, from the French New Wave’s dead animals excess, to Jodorowky’s strange spiritual journeys, to Cronenberg’s disgusting creatures, to David Lynch psychologically complex character constellations, to Carax’ haunting Monsieur Merde in his 2012 Holy Motors.
The Science of Sleep is different. Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) might be a little lost as a Mexican in Paris, but his eyeball is not in danger, luckily. He went to Paris because his father died from cancer and his French mother got him a “creative job“ at a calendar company. As it turns out, Stéphane’s concept of a “disasterology“ calendar is not wanted there, and he is supposed to do minor work. The relationship to his neighbour Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is also quite difficult. She doesn’t know they’re neighbours yet, forcing Stéphane to pretend they’re not. He also doesn’t know how to show his affection for her, so he breaks into her apartment to fix a toy horse of Stéphanie’s.
It’d be quite a “tristesse“ if Stéphan didn’t have the ability to escape reality for a while. He just lies down, switches off the light (in a very innovative way), and dreams away – beautifully. One has to love the visual quirkiness of these hand-crafted dreams, of which Wes Anderson has borrowed some for his The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s nice to see how Stéphan’s reality more and more becomes like his dreams, and we get more and more DIY images that make hipsters happy.
After all, the backstory of the protagonist having lost his father does not have much substance, and substance is probably not the thing you should be looking for while watching The Science of Sleep. Just dream away. And be carried away by the cellophane river. It’s all papier-mâché.