The Science of Sleep

This new film, also known as La Science des rêves, from Michel Gondry is what cinema is all about. My only regret is that I did not see it on the big screen. In this film, Gondry continues his playful investigation into the mechanics of the brain and its role in imagination,  fantasy and even real life. This fascination is apparent in his earlier effort, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Indeed, The Science of Sleep trades on some of the same subject matter: the vicissitudes of love, the way that desire is an impediment to desire and the destabilization of narrative by incorporating the real and the imaginary.

Indeed, I think this is really the essence of film. Recent movies like Memento, Being John Malkovich (interestingly, Gondry also worked with Charlie Kaufman, directing the much less spectacular Human Nature) and Waking Life have demonstrated that the space of film narratives is not physical reality, but some strange mixture of physical and psychical reality. In other words, film is a story of the imagination. We come to see the characters not as flesh and blood actors in a drama of people, places and events, but as interconnected consciousnesses in a drama of desire, fantasy and fear. The reason I think that these narratives tap into the essence of film is because they exploit the nature of the medium. Whereas the written word forces us to produce the images and events, whereas theater displays real, flesh and blood actors on a stage, whereas visual art is static, film inserts itself directly into the imagination of the viewer. When we watch cinema, we become as it were passive recipients of someone else’s dream sequence.

The Science of Sleep is exactly that. In it we are brought into the psychological world of Stephane, a Mexican born artist who is living in Paris working as an intern for a calendar publishing company. The film’s narrative moves seamlessly between his dream-life and his waking life such that even the most absurd and catastrophic scenes do not seem out of place. What is wonderful about the effort of Michel Gondry to blur the lines between physical and psychical reality is that he never wavers from his course. Indeed, at the end of the movie one really must wonder: which is more vital to the well being of our characters, their dreaming life or their waking life?

I am reminded of the old story about the beggar who dreams every night that he is king and the king who dreams every night that he is a beggar: one wonders who is the happier?