the science of sleep (2006)
Talent, creativity, ingenuity; Michel Gondry is a director who's got alot going for him. He demonstrated it in 2004, with a little help from Charlie Kaufman, when he directed one of my favorite films from this decade, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His new film is called The Science of Sleep, and while it demonstrates alot of the same aesthetic as Eternal Sunshine, I kind of started to wonder if aesthetics are all Gondry's interested in. The film looks great. Viewing it is an experience akin to a small child getting lost in his grandpa's attic for 2 hours, discovering all sorts knick knacks and junk and letting their imagination go wild. The film is very entertaining with some impressive stop-motion animated dream sequences and a colorful cast of characters, but on the flip side it all gets kind of tiresome and basically wasn't really doing much for me. It's more or less the kind of film that's more fun to look back on the experience of than it is to actually experience. Oddly enough, this is a quality that many dreams contain so it may been intended, but intended or not it wasn't working for me. In a nut shell, that's really what this review will focus on more than anything else, not how good the film was, but what about it was clicking with me and what wasn't. It's a good film, a nice film is a better way of putting it, but as far as we two are concerned, the film and I didn't really have much to say to eachother.
All in all, I'm not too sure what to make of this one. On paper it must've looked great, in fact, conceptually at least, it's got alot that Gondry must've been excited to do. The screenplay was most likely filled to the brim with fancy prose describing all manner of cardboard spaceships and cellophane oceans that would dance together through the cosmos to the audience's increasing delight. Sounds great huh? Well, hey, it is, just not for two hours. In order to bring this fanciful world of whimsy to life, however, Gondry would need a ring-master through whom all of these visions would come pouring out of. His main character Stephane is, in alot of ways, much like Jim Carrey's character Joel in Eternal Sunshine. He comes off as very shy and out of place in most of the situations the film finds him in; he's terribly naive when it comes to love and from this we are supposed to derive some sort of innocence in his character. This character-defining pratfall comes up in many films where, in order to communicate that the main character is pure and good-hearted, the film must make him out to be as naive and childish as possible. For some odd reason, we as an audience are thought to be unable to discern if our character is trustworthy or not if he displays any signs of intelligence. Thank goodness Gondry has made it so easy on us by serving up this baby-faced main character whose shy embarrassment and fumbling social faux pas makes him instantly adorable in "lost puppy" sense. Having a character follow along in this one dimension is fine for an easy-to-relate-to-and-set-up side-character. However, in this film especially, the main character is sort of stuck carrying the weight of a gazillion stop-motion sequences on his back. If he's not interesting and his story isn't getting to me all we have are a bunch of disjointed animation sequences. And yes, for a large portion of the film that is pretty much all we have. However, most of them are actually really fun, and Gondry's sense of fun are what makes the film likable, even if it's not very good. Gondry uses alot of cool tricks to make the film as surreal as his tight constraints he puts on it (for a reason I can't begin to imagine) will allow. He employs three different languages (French, English and Spanish) to give the film that jumbled up feeling of a dream. In fact, I would assume if one actually were trilingual, they might dream in just this way. Another fun aspect of the film is the way the sets are changed within the dream sequences, as they are in actual dreams, where staircases that are in actuality very small continue on in an infinite flight. Characters change, in one of the better sequences Stephane's hands grow enormous as he fights a co-worker. This should have been an incredibly enjoyable and free form film that could have easily done away with narrative alltogether and easily shrugged it off as "it's supposed to be like a dream. Not many films are given that opportunity so flat out and it was more than a bit annoying to see this film just throw that opportunity away. Especially when it has no problem giving us scenes without any context and occurrences that don't make sense in any kind of logical way.
That's more or less the root of the film's problem. It's not logical because it's trying to recreate a dreamlike state for the audience, but it doesn't go all the way into and all-out illogical Un Chien Andalou style free-flowing headtrip. It clings on to its narrative and storyline with an iron grip that belies its own imaginative nature. Stephane has a dream in which everything is cold, he and his friends are skiing and his feet are frozen. Okay, fine. The film then feels it has to account for this by having him wake up with his feet stuck in the freezer of his mini-fridge. Excuse me for asking, but, huh? The film had to be logical enough to provide us with an explanation, but the explanation is completely illogical and unnecessary. Also, there's nothing more annoying in a film filled with dream sequences than to have to watch the movie shove the fact that it was a dream in your face with obligatory "waking up" scenes. A little more mystery would have gone a long way. Maybe the audience could figure out when stuff is a dream instead of you telling us, Gondry. Maybe we already knew it was a dream because the city was made of egg cartons and the snow was bits of white string. The film began really strong, taking on new dreamlike directions instead of adhering to a story. There's a segment where Stephane's electric shaver comes to life and tries to attack him. Awesome, I want to see more! But Gondry's story doesn't allow time to delve deeper into the interesting parts of the film, he's got to keep moving so we can get to the next story development. Bad choice. On the up side, the film looks great, it's got everything it could have going for it in its camerawork and cinematography. I really enjoy Gondry's entire mise en scene which is mostly constructed by cluttering the screen to the point of making the film look like your grandma's house. Hey, it looks good. Also, as stated before, the stop-motion sequences are great to look at and really provide the most enjoyable segments of the film. Also, Gondry once again centers his film around a romance and it also works very well within the context of the film. The unique part about this romance is that it's mostly going on exclusively in Stephane's head. Therefore, the object of his desire, Stephanie, is shown to us in one way through the dreams and a totally different way in the reality, a nice touch indeed. An odd point I'd like to make here is that I stopped writing a few sentences back and decided to finish this review in the morning, while I was sleeping I had a dream about writing the review and it flowed a little something like in the film. The screen became black all around the text and I wrote too much, causing the words to continue on down an exaggeratedly long screen. The text would become blacked out by the blackness in the screen and I couldn't see what I was writing. Any psychologists out there, feel free to analyze, I just thought it was a funny story to share. Anyway, back to the film, I'll wrap this thing up here. Gondry's film is a very enjoyable one, I could see myself revisiting it and enjoying the experience of seeing all the stop-motion and really getting into Stephane's story. The film is very well-shot and employs alot of European sensibilities in its camera-work. Obviously, this is due to the French crew at Gaumont studios (I'm a bit partial to anything made with this studio because it's where Godard, my favorite director, produced me favorite film, Week End, as well as a number of his other masterpieces). On the down side, nothing else, storywise, that happens has any real draw to watching it. The film is also far too constrained and could use some freeing up.
Well, now it's time to rate this puppy. The complaints I made are minor in the sense that it's still a very likable film when all things are considered. I recommend seeing it because it's really a step in the right direction filmwise. Gondry is someone to watch in the near future, eventually he's going to hand us a true masterpiece, just wait. The thing about the complaints I made is, they're also major when it comes to discerning a good film from a bad. I have to say that I was getting quite restless in the theater and something wasn't clicking with me about the film. Check this one out, just don't expect to be blown away. You'll have a good time though.