A wildly imaginative inventor, Stephane has been inverting dreams and reality since the age of six. Now an adult, Stephane returns to his childhood home in the aftermath of his father’s death, hoping to excel in a great creative job that his mother has lined up for him. Amidst problems with his new co-workers (the job is not all is was cracked up to be) and a burgeoning yet tumultuous relationship with his neighbor Stephanie, Stephane slips intermittently between borderless worlds of sleep and consciousness, taking the audience with him as he attempts to gain control of his waking life by studying the science of sleep.
Ever surreal and intensely visual, director/screenwriter Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep” proves nearly impossible to describe in mere words. In his portrayal of the disarmingly childlike Stephane, Gael Garcia Bernal is painfully shy during his waking life, but at times takes on a bold confidence afforded to him only in his dreams. Meanwhile, Charlotte Gainsbourg ‘s performance as Stephanie mirrors Stephane’s unique, creative thinking, while adding an enigmatic feminine quality that is at once enchanting and frustratingly complex.
While a major part of the film is the concept of randomness as it relates to the dream world (Stephane terms a chief aspect of the science of sleep “PSR” – Parallel Synchronized Randomness), the storyline is also largely based in Freudian subconscious theory. For example, the concept that everyone in a dream is an aspect of the dreamer’s personality is apparent throughout the film. Stephanie is simultaneously an extension of Stephane as well as all the women who ever broke his heart, while his coworkers appear in his dreams as different partitions of himself. Equally apparent is the idea that the dream world incorporates memories of events that happen during waking life; at one point, an electric razor dropped on the floor in the morning reappears in sleep as a razor-like creature that works in reverse, spitting out copious amounts hair instead of trimming it. Additionally, Stephane’s sex-obsessed coworker spits out a never ending stream of Freudian sex references.
In the construction of his set, Gondry has used a variety of materials whose texture creates an almost palpable visual landscape upon which the story takes place. Stephane attempts to direct his dreams from a room that resembles a television studio, performing in front of cardboard cameras and walls papered with the insides of egg-cartons. Similarly, elements from Stephane’s real life reincarnate in his dreams, but take on fantastical new textures; when he falls asleep in the bathtub, he re-awakens in a tub full of cellophane. Using a combination of animated and material sets, Gondry invents a Dr. Seuss-like world in which anything can happen; the story develops across a mixture of languages (French, Spanish and English) and words (Stephane complains that he feels “schizometric”).
An intermingling in every sense of the word, Gondry fuses chaos with order, conscious with unconscious, reality with imagination, and emotion with humor across the uneven terrain of Stephane’s mind. “The Science of Sleep” truly has to be seen to be believed.