“The Science of Sleep” is the latest film from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” director Michel Gondry. Gondry also wrote the screenplay for “Sleep,” creating a complete film experience that is as charming as it is bizarre. “Sleep” is a vibrant narrative in three languages and – as if that’s not enough to keep up with – Gondry has presented the story line as a dizzying and unsettling vacillation back and forth between dreams and perceived reality. The film is visually reminiscent of “Eternal Sunshine,” but with a far less forgiving structure.
This movie thoroughly pissed me off…and I absolutely love it.
The measure of a film is not always how you feel about your experience the instant you walk out the theater doors. While that is certainly the case most films- for instance you don’t need a few days to decide if you think there is lasting importance to “Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” or “Jackass 2”- but “Sleep” is not that kind of film. Had anyone asked me as I was leaving what I thought, I would have said it was pretty, but what the hell was it trying to say…what a mess. The true beauty of this picture is that it got under my skin. A week went by and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I found myself recommending it to friends who I knew would appreciate the confusing art-house movie style and utterly wacky visual elements that are unbelievably memorable. Two weeks went by and I became absolutely certain of it’s brilliance. It bothered me the way only the medium of film can. This film is rich with characters and images that I just can’t shake.
Writer/director Gondry is as artistic and visual as any feature film director. With “Science of Sleep” and “Eternal Sunshine,” he has proven he belongs in the same league with guys like Tim Burton and Peter Jackson when it comes to art direction and a striking visual point-of-view. Few filmmakers would take the chances he takes with this film. His daring leaps off the screen, right into your seat, and goes home with you when you leave.
Co-stars Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (“21 Grams”) give remarkably appropriate performances. The characters of Stephane (Bernal) and Stephanie (Gainsbourg) are so odd, and yet its hard to imagine anyone else in either role. We are never really sure if Bernal’s Stephane is mentally ill or if he is so painfully artistic that his social skills have been kidnapped by his exceptionally colorful imagination. Either way, the story is a nonstop thrill ride through Stephane’s mind, and Stephanie struggles beautifully to exist there with him.
“The Science of Sleep” is playful and perverse. Fans of “Eternal Sunshine” will appreciate the nonlinear story and recognize Gondry’s handiwork in the souls of the characters and the vivid images on the screen. The first time I watched it, I felt overwhelmed and disturbed by what I was seeing and what I wasn’t being told. With time I realized that’s the best part and I can’t wait to go back there again.