The Science of Sleep (Gondry, 2006)

Films that deal with dreamers and dreams in visually stunning ways often get a free pass when it comes to story. Hey, don’t worry, he’s dreaming, it doesn’t have to make sense. His character doesn’t have to evolve. The truth of the matter is French director Michel Gondry has already made his dreamscape masterpiece with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film whose memory based logic fits perfectly within the development of the characters. After Sunshine and the passionate Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, it’s sad too see Gondry go lazy and pretentious with The Science of Sleep. Like Sunshine, Gondry gives us the story of two young people looking for a connection, a delusional dreamer named Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) coming to grips with his friendship and romantic notions for his next door neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Stephane is verging on insanity, his dreams of crumbling cities and evolving environments swiftly converging on his recognizable reality. Stephanie seems to be caught in the crossfire, both a play mate of sorts for Stephane in his dream world and an innocent bystander suffering the inconsistencies of his dynamic personality. Gondry’s amazing visual parallel for Stephane’s dreams starts off intriguing, but like his protagonist, becomes a repetitive monster. We get flying stuffed horses, underwater POV’s, a time machine, and an incredible typewriter/spider. But none of these creations has a subtext or leaves a lasting impression, mainly because Gondry never fully lets us into Stephane’s desires, his true self. We feel just as alienated as Stephanie, even more frustrated by this loose attempt at creating a complex character. Michel Gondry has an obvious obsession with disillusioned and well meaning protagonists and his technical skill in visually complimenting these men remains impressive. But The Science of Sleep displays none of the humanity his early films define themselves by, instead choosing to dwell in the quirky swamp of modern independent film cliche’s. Stephane might be going insane, but any compassion felt for his plight slows as he becomes a child for umpteenth time. Many characters cry themselves to sleep at night living in dreams instead of reality. The difference between great storytelling and whiney banter lies in the details of the person, not the gimmicks used to create their dreams.

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