The Science of Sleep

By  · Published on August 16th, 2006

Release Date: September 22, 2006

If you aren’t “really” into film (you know, the kind of person who could sit around an urban coffee shop for hours and talk about the French New Wave like it just happened), then you may have trouble “getting” the hubbub about director Michel Gondry. And even though you may have liked Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his most mainstream effort, you may not really understand why. It is safe to say then, that you have an equally difficult time wrapping your entertainment driven psyche around why writer Charlie Kaufman is so brilliant. These two masterminds of originality and quirk seem to go hand in hand, right into the realm of odd for the average moviegoer.

But even though you may not understand why they make films like they do, you are still willing to try. If for nothing else, but because people who do “get it” say so. The good news with Gondry’s latest gem, The Science of Sleep, you only have to fight have the battle, as Gondry has broken away from Kaufman and taken on a daring project all to his own. The result, good or bad, will undoubtedly leave some interested parties lost in the continually eccentric mind of the filmmaker.

As with his previous work on Eternal Sunshine, Gondry has teamed up with a vibrant and gifted actor around which he can center his story. As Jim Carey fit the bill before, Gael Garcia Bernal takes over the reigns in The Science of Sleep as the socially awkward, aloof hero St©phane, an calendar artist whose consciousness fades in and out of his own elaborate dream world. Bernal, to say the least, is absolutely outrageous, deploying a coy genius and peculiarity to create this character that sucks you in and makes you his instant omniscient friend. The diverse moments that exist, namely the difference between his outlandish behavior within his dreams and his reticent reality, create a first half of the film that is very engaging, leading us to want to see more of what Stephane will do next as he passes almost haplessly in and out of his own dreams.

But the real dynamic occurs when Stephane meets his lovely neighbor Stephanie, played by a very shy yet charming Charlotte Gainsbourg. The two develop what can only be described as a cute, awkward relationship that sparkles in this eccentric existence that Gondry creates for them. Stephane knows that he likes Stephanie right off the bat, but he spends the entirety of the film’s second act trying to find a way to tell her. And while his conscious mind cannot figure out the right way to approach the situation, his unconscious seems to have all the answers.

As the film rolls through it’s 105 minute run-time at a tart pace, we are treated to one of the most creative and extraordinary adventures ever delivered by Gondry. The film’s oddity though, does get the best of its audience toward the end. The first 90 minutes of the film are effective in getting us to all fall in love with this unusual romantic pairing that just can’t work itself out. The last 15 minutes or so, most of us get lost in the severe eccentricity of Gondry’s story. The style points that the film puts up in its early stages are ultimately put at risk by the fact that the story continues to spiral deeper and deeper into a sea of oddity. But then again, that seems to be the point of the film; the feeling of slipping into this mind-numbing state where dreams cannot be discerned from reality and vice versa just illustrates the journey of the film’s main character. And as odd as it may be, it is truly a brilliant play by the filmmaker.

As far as my recommendation is concerned, this is another fantastically quirky film from one of the best “artsy fartsy” directors out there; so if that is your cup of tea, or the film’s trailer piques your interest, don’t hesitate to see it when it becomes available to you. On the other hand, if you really only yearn for a shallow, artless form of entertainment easily retrieved from a film like, well, Step Up, then this just isn’t a film for you. Either way The Science of Sleep does go into my file as one of the more fascinating and delightful films of the year thus far.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)