The Science of Sleep (2006), directed by Michel Gondry, is a depiction of life as an indiscernible mix of dreams and reality. From the very start, we are launched into the mind of protagonist Stephane Miroux, who is in the middle of the dream. Stephane’s dreams are a production, literally. We see him working in his “dream studio,” a one-man television show by the name of “Television Educative.” He plays the show’s theme song on the drums and the piano, sets up all the cameras, and serves as the show’s host. By the opening credits, it is obvious The Science of Sleep will not be a conventional film.
We soon learn that Stephane is moving back into his mother’s home, also his childhood home, in France. His mother has secured a new job for him at a calendar printing company, a place he hopes to expand his artistic visions. It quickly becomes apparent however, that there is no room at the company for his offbeat creativity; his ideas are rejected and he is stuck performing menial tasks like cutting and pasting logos. Stephane’s frustration manifests itself in his dreams, where he fabricates elaborate schemes to seize the company and publish his drawings. Dreaming is his coping mechanism; a way he can make up for his insecurity and thwarted masculinity.
Stephane is deeply ensconced in the shelter of his self-imposed innocence and infancy, which results in shortcomings in all his relationships. We see his immaturity most obviously in his room, which I think is fair to say, is a direct extension and reflection of himself. Stephane’s room is frozen in time, still bearing all the remnants of his boyhood. The furniture is painted in primary colors, the tiny twin-size bed is covered with racecar-patterned sheets, the walls are decorated with scribbles, and the bookshelves display homemade toy models.
Stephane eventually develops an interest in his neighbor, Stephanie, after he discovers their mutual interest in art, designing, and building. The first time they spend time alone together, Stephane quickly gets absorbed in Stephanie’s personal art project—a small felt boat. Like a toddler with ADHD, he is easily excitable and easily inspired. His imagination runs wild, and soon, he is sputtering ideas building a forest inside the boat, creating a sea of cellophane, and making a short, animated film out of the production.
Stephanie and Stephane seem to be on the track towards a picture-perfect, adult relationship—neighbors that fall in love over shared creative visions and projects. In fact they’re so similar, they practically share the same name. And yet, they fail to move forward. The movie is completely devoid of actual sex; it only happens for Stephane’s omnipotent dream-self. Stephane and Stephanie never come close to consummating their partnership; they never even share a bed. Their stunted relationship can almost be entirely attributed to Stephane’s immaturity. Overall, their romance is frustratingly unsatisfying.
(Spin Art. Licensed under Creative Commons at Flickr.)
The last line of the movie is perfectly simple. Stephanie approaches a sleeping Stephane and quietly says, "Stephane?" It's the exact question I was asking throughout the film. Because the film is so immersed in Stephane's mind, it was impossible to determine if something is actually happening or if it is yet another fiction concocted by Stephane's imagination. There were scenes where it seemed like real space and time, but then the rules of gravity would suddenly be suspended or blips in time would occur. I could never be sure. As the whimsical, fantastical film continually traverses dreams, reality, and the muddled region where the two intersect, all concrete delineations are blurred. We follow Stephane as he navigates these worlds seamlessly, opening a door in his dream space and entering a room in real space. In many cases, his dreams often invade his real life because he is a hyperactive sleepwalker. The most prominent example of this is when he slides a letter under Stephanie’s door, asking for the phone number of another girl, while sleepwalking—a rude but unintentional gesture that causes a rift in their relationship. Stephane’s inability to distinguish between dreams and reality translates into our inability, as viewers, to follow his true life events.
It is in this complex way, that the film progresses cumbersomely. To make things more convoluted, the characters speak in three different languages, English, French, and Spanish. The characters interchange languages when they speak so subtitles flit on and off the screen inconsistently. These are all constant reminders of the warped, fantasy world Gondry has beautifully constructed.