Reality gets lost in ‘The Science of Sleep’

Liana Aghajanian

In dreams, emotions are overwhelming. Intense desires, terrifying nightmares and hidden realizations masked under heavy eyelids use the mind as their playground, battling against each other in full fledged war until consciousness snaps you back into stagnant reality.

For Stephane Miroux, a shy illustrator whose dreams control his life, however, things are not so easy. While always having trouble separating dreams from reality ever since he was a child, Stephane, now in his twenties, sees his dreams invading his life more than ever before. Host of “Stephane TV,” his own imaginary show created out of cardboard boxes and a shower curtain, Stephane discusses the science of sleep and lays out the ingredients that dreams require: random thoughts, reminiscences of the day, memories from the past, love, friendship, relationships, songs you hear and images you see throughout the day.

In this visually stimulating and fresh film, Michel Gondry, the creator of award winning film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and countless commercials and videos, manages to not only present an exciting and unique story line, but introduces vivid characters and an insight perhaps, into your own twisted dreams.

After his father’s untimely passing, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) returns to his childhood home in Paris after his mother promises him a job opportunity with a calendar publisher. Under the impression that the job will entail illustration, Stephane is shocked to discover that his work involves paste-up of calendars. He tries unsuccessfully to present his “Disasterology” drawings of plain crashes, floods and earthquakes to his boss and after growing bored and frustrated with his job, they begin to invade his dreams. Images of himself with gargantuanly magnified hands fighting with his coworkers and other unusual thoughts run through Stephane’s mind.

While trying to help movers who are struggling with relocating a piano up a flight of stairs, he injures his hand and meets his new neighbor Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her friend Zoe. (Emma De Caunes) Stephane keeps quiet about living across the hall from Stephanie and although initially attracted to Zoe, Stephane soon discovers that she shares his love of creativity and invention. As their relationship unfolds and has its own share of ups and downs, Stephane’s dreams become increasingly bizarre. The cardboard realm of Stephane TV expands to include his own little microcosm of the world. Struggling with thoughts of his initial meetings with Stephanie, he writes a best selling novel (“I am Just Your Neighbor and a Liar. By the way, do you have Zoe’s number?”)

In Stephane’s topsy turvy world, the movie go-er no longer is the viewer, but rather becomes part of the dream, empathizes with and roots for Stephane to get the girl. Stephane’s confides in Guy (Alain Chabat), his friend and coworker who provides much comedy throughout the film. Guy, although puzzled with how strangely Stephane acts, listens and advises Stephane on what to do about Stephanie and his dreams.

The cinematography, paired with the superb acting from Benal and Gainsbourg, is what carries the plot throughout the film. Gondry does not just tell you of Stephane’s dreams, he shows you Stephane building his cardboard world of buildings, cars and factories while the dream counterparts of his coworkers watch on in excitement from their boss’ office window which has his disasterology paintings hanging on the wall.

The soundtrack which includes tracks from The Willowz, Jean-Michel Bernard and an oddly placed Steppin’ Out from Kool and the Gang, assures any viewer with doubt that Stephane’s mind is in fact distorting the lines between dreams and reality. With beautiful melancholy rifts and appropriately placed heavy metal to reveal an intensity of a dream or scene, the soundtrack completes the movie, the way all soundtracks should. Listening to tracks with the absence of the film does not let you forget a particular scene or event each song is connected to.

Just like dreams, the “Science of Sleep” might leave you feeling unsatisfied or confused, and this could be the only downfall of the film. However, to truly appreciate what “Science of Sleep” has to offer, you might be required to make multiple visits to the theater.