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The Science of Sleep

September 26th, 2006 (10:42 am)

current mood: sad

BTW - why isn't this titled The Science of Dreams?...

© 2006 D. Gordon

Warning: there may be mild spoilers in this.

Impressions going in: directed by Michel Gondry; starring Gael García Bernal; and, for someone who would name One Hundred Years of Solitude a favorite book (because it's written the same way I think), an incredible-sounding story. What's not to like?

from Warner Independent Pictures

Impressions coming out: ... it was and it wasn't what I was expecting. It was definitely a tour through a fantasyland, with all the improbabilities and double-takes that implies: think Being John Malkovich, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (and the older Münchhausen), Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Also keep in mind that this is Michel Gondry that we're talking about; if you've seen his videos, or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you'll know what kind of imaginings he's capable of. (In fact, Eternal Sunshine was really, really restrained compared to this.) And I like seeing movies like this, which create their own wacky universe and follow its bizarre rules seamlessly. It's fun to see how far the structure can stretch, how many balls the creator can throw in the air and how well s/he can balance them.

But this is different. This is a trip inside of one person's mind, which the other movies aren't - a very creative mind; but, as the story develops, possibly a very broken mind. First glance implies that Stéphane and Stéphanie are two sides of the same coin (names, interests, the way they look at the world, even the way they hold themselves). But it becomes clear that Stéphane is the one fully invested in realizing his fantasies; he even yells at Stéphanie that she never "completes" anything, much like he's complained earlier that his mother never did - although he doesn't differentiate between completing the important and unimportant things in life. Maybe this is a result of Stéphane's father (who may have been "protecting" him in some way) having died recently; maybe it's a result of being in a foreign country which is partly his, but in which he can't even communicate beyond a basic level (which may mirror his relationship with his French mother). But there are several signs that Stéphane's just always been like this - his mother mentions that he's had problems sorting between dreams and reality since he was six. An inability to move away from this world - whether because he's insane or just immature - implies that his relationship with Stéphanie is probably doomed.

Michel Gondry has put together an inventive, unique movie, going farther out on a limb than he did with Eternal Sunshine, although he hasn't put together as tight a narrative. Some of that is the inherent character of the material (we're looking at the world through Stéphane's head, after all), but there are problems. The movie definitely could have been edited down a few minutes. Stéphane's quirkiness goes on a little longer than needed to establish that he's in his own little world, and that extra bit doesn't add to the story. There's quite a bit of a "videoesque" look to the movie, which is perfect for expressing dreams, but the whole package feels incomplete. Placed on a timeline of Gondry's evolution, it almost seems that the realized film should have come before Eternal Sunshine. This isn't the subject matter or style, but the realization.

But that's the trick of this movie - the more I think about it, the more I begin to appreciate what's going on. It's far from being a failure, and it feels like something pretty substantive is happening here that I'd like to look into more. Going back to see it again right now is out of the question, though - real life is calling in a big way.

* * * * * * * * * *

I'm a big fan of Gael García Bernal; I like how he chooses original and offbeat roles, and he definitely doesn't disappoint here. Playing out someone's wild dreams and mind games without it looking phony is a challenge, which García Bernal more than meets. His costars, especially Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Serge) as the conflicted Stéphanie, are up to the challenge as well, although some characters aren't very well-developed (a problem - but they're only supporting characters in the dreams, after all %^}). Gainsbourg's average woman, someone you might pass in the street, grounds the film in a way that Kirsten Dunst (who, according to Gondy in one interview, was originally supposed to have been in the movie) would not have.

There are a number of ways to interpret the movie; I'll probably spend the next few days replaying and recasting different parts. But what's fairly well set, and what the movie boils down to, is a description of the arc of a relationship, from the original meeting, through sorting out feelings, to challenges to those feelings, and ending with - well, the end. Even with the added padding, The Science of Sleep is a beautiful, sad, strange slice of life.