10 Films in no particular order- No2 “The Science of Sleep”

September 21, 2010

The Science of Sleep (2006)

(written and directed by  Michel Gondry)

What follows has suprised myself a little. I am normally less interested in a film’s plot than the way in which it is shot and assembled.  What follows is largely devoted to the plot of “The Science of Sleep” (SoS).

It’s not that this film lacks craftsmanship.
But maybe it’s for the best… it’s plot which interests most people, and the story in SoS is far enough from the mundane.

Stephan has returned to his childhood home in France, an apartment belonging to his mother.

The ridiculous toque which Stephan wears is a first hint of his character. This unfolds as childish, akward, dazzlingly imaginative… and crumpled by how difficult all this make his life.

Stephan can barely make himself understood in French.

The job which has been arranged for him turns out to be nothing like he had expected.

He is charming. He is socially both delightful and inept.

The film swerves in and out of sleep. Some dreams are surreal, others are only subtlely distorted. Dreams fold into each other, they open like a Russian doll which we don’t realize we’re opening.

We experience Stephan waking from a dream, then find that what we had assumed to be wakefullness drifts into nonsense. Wakefulness cuts off dreams some dreams after only a moment, others are sustained through elongated swirls. Some dreams are lucid, some are completely out of control, others fall in and out of the dreamer’s grasp. Sometimes Stephan is startled by finding himself in a dream, other times we all fail to notice.

Watching Stephan through his dreams, I keep marvelling… yes, our brains are amazing for their ability to concoct spectacularly bizzare imagery. But even more wonderful is our brain’s capacity, in that dreaming moment, to be calmly convinced.

Not every moment of every dream is absurd. Not every waking moment makes any sense.

As Stephan says in a moment of whimsy: “The brain is the most complex thing in the universe… and its right behind the nose”

As it befuddles the separation of dreaming and awake, the film is filled with wonderful oddities. Glasses which allow you to “see real life in 3D”, a sink pouring cellophane water, a “one second time-travel machine”, a galloping stuffed pony, objects like Oldenurg sculptures, a universe build from cardboard tubes.

The story is full of hopes which turn out to be foolish, disappointment which turns out to be misplaced, kidding which which suddenly stumbles into catastrophe.

All of this reminds me that sometimes what is real is fantastic. We call this play… twiggling the line between real and make-believe. Pretending is difficult enough to manage within oneself, but to play with others is doomed to (at least) occasional disaster.

Are you we pretending? Are we still kidding?

Is Stephan awake. Are we are we dreaming?

One last reason that The Science of Sleep appeals to me:  There are many times when I wish that dreaming and the wakefulness of day-to-day were closer together. Dreamscapes might improve reality, so often horribly dull.

I forgot to mention that movie revolves around a love story.   Anyway, it’s sweet.

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