(R) Four stars
The Science of Sleep opens in a television studio — the kind of TV studio a child would construct, complete with cardboard cameras and egg cartons affixed to the walls. Welcome to Stephane TV where our protagonist, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal), is performing a different kind of cooking show. This cooking show creates dreams and Stephane places the raw materials of a dream into a giant pot, a fine metaphor for the film we’re about to experience.
This opening scene is in fact a dream that Stephane is having, and so the funhouse mirror effect is established — along with the enduring question of just what the heck constitutes reality, anyway. When we next see the nearly 30-year-old Stephane he’s ostensibly awake, moving back into his childhood home, complete with toys and inventions. He gets a miserable job that mutes his creativity, he tries to fathom the impact of his dad’s recent death, he meets his new next door neighbor, whose name, Stephanie (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg), is no subtle signal that the two will eventually hook up — but not in a traditional manner.
The Science of Sleep is, at the very least, a beguiling and beautiful work of art, a delicious dip into sweet surreality. It is also infuriatingly obfuscating — especially if you are trying to figure out which is the dream part and which is the awake part. In fact, neither may exist.
If you are a rational film goer, then you will come to the inevitable conclusion that Stephane needs to be institutionalized, or at least heavily medicated, for this confusion about the nature of reality is nothing short of psychosis.
A state not unlike falling in love.
Writer/director Michel Gondry, in addition to making short experimental films and music videos, has directed three feature-length films: Human Nature (with Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. All three take the traditional love story narrative and throw it into a blender and watch the arc split apart, disintegrate and uproariate into a vortex, then form a completely new structure. With The Science of Sleep, Gondry has the blender switch on “high.” We have boy meets/loses/gets girl, we have all the concomitant confusion and misunderstandings, but everything is all jumbled up because their love story plays out in multiple dimensions: in reality, in dreams and inside the membrane that separates the two.
It’s not a movie to machinate about immediately afterward. You might, in fact, want to sleep on it.