Sunday, March 25, 2007
The Science of Sleep
I think if you don't like Michael Gondry, you're crazy. I don't mean that you have to like his films or think they are the greatest things out there, but you have to appreciate the fresh approach he brings to the film making process. He is a very flawed director in that his films are sometimes more about the absurd film techniques and excentric story lines he perfected while directing scores of music videos. Yet, as with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind(2004), when he has a good screenplay, Gondry is able to make gold and use his quirky film tricks for good instead of evil (meaning he uses his fun tricks to further the story rather than for nothing). Maybe Charlie Kaufman should write all of his films!
His follow up to 'Spotless Mind', The Science of Sleep(2006), is a great effort in taking a simple story and using it as a vehicle Gondry's style of imagry, but it ends up falling short in the end.
There was not a lot of buzz about this film when it came out last summer and although I wanted to check it out in the theaters, I just missed it. So, thanks to my good friends at Netflix, it arrived last week. My wife and I found ourselves laughing and finding the story touching at times, and I was excited watching the dream sequences throughout the film. But, when the film ended, we looked at each other and agreed that it did not deliver in the end.
The Science of Sleep is about a man, Stéphane Miroux, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who moves to Paris from Mexico to be with his mother after his father dies of cancer. In the middle of missing and mourning his father, his mother gets him a dead end job with four quirky co-workers and seems to all but live by himself. His mother seems to be a part of this movie only to further the story and gives him some kind of reason for being in Paris at all.
After a short time he meets his new neighbor, Stéphanie, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who is almost as quirky and strange as Stephane, but ends up just confused by his strangeness but is also attracted to him. The relationship is confusing, but then again, relationships can be confusing. In The Science of Sleep, it remains confusing and never resolves (which may or may not be a bad thing).
Stephane's problem is that he can't differentiate between reality and dreams. They intertwine for him seamlessly. Throughout the film we are taken into his dream television show, which he directs, produces, stars in, is all of the musicians in the 'talk show' band, and he is the subject of the show. Both beautiful and amazing, the dreams show us what is inside his head and how he feels about his life. His problem arises when he has to separate the two and is unable. The name of his show is 'Stephane TV'. Complete with a green screen and two windows with blinds he can open and close as he looks out of his own eyes.
The dreams are what make this film tick and Gondry knows it. I got the feeling that from the start, he wanted to make a film with some old animation techniques and bring them to a new level, while integrating those animation scenes into the real world, showing the audience Stephane's problem. They are new, they are different, and they are a joy to watch. They are worth taking a look at this film. You will laugh and feel refreshed at some of the scenes. The problem is they don't add up.
Gondry gives us hope throughout the film that Stephane might just figure things out and rise above his strange problems to finally get the girl, but this never happens. His life not getting resolved is not my problem. It's that Stephane is a slave to his character. He has no choice in what happens to him as his dreams engulf his reality. There is no time where he looks at what's happening and decides to go deeper into the rabbit hole, or come out of it and change something with in his life. I know that in life some people choose not to choose, but in films we typically are witness to a time which is most important in the character's life. I at least would like to see the moment where he decides to gives up or comes to the conclusion that even he knows he is hopeless.
One of my biggest dissapointments was when he gets a huge break at work and they publish his 'disasterology' paintings as a calandar, but it means nothing to any of the characters and is never brought up again. Stephan has a party thrown for him but the big break is never even mentioned again throughout the film and serves only as a way of trying to get the audience to believe that he really is a smart, respectable protagonist who we should believe in. I could only see a flawed, weak, junenile man who truly could not cope with real life and may even have some serious mental problems.
By the end of the film, he is so disjointed and lost as a character that we as the audience are lost also. Unable to feel much either way for him, which is obviously how Stephanie feels also. She finds him attractive and cute, but in the end, his juvenile tricks and miscommunication are just confusing to her and she is unable to really commit to him but also unable to let him go.
In the end, this is a film that Gondry may have wanted us to feel the way I feel about Stephan and his life. He may have said, "I want to make a film about a slightly funny, quirky, but ultimately pathetic and possibly deranged young man who is on the verge of losing himself completely to his fantasy world." But, I don't know Michael Gondry. I do know that this is one reason I enjoy film in general. Someone else may watch this movie and feel totally different that me.
Do I give it any stars or thumbs? No. I just say watch The Science of Sleep with an open mind to the quirks and enjoy the fun that Gondry brings to the screen as well as some of the great performances from Bernal and Gainsbourg. Particularly Bernal, who is becoming one of the great up-and-coming actors that is willing to take risks with his roles and always gives you something memorable from every character he plays.
Let me know what you think about the film and if you had a different opinion. I'd love to know it!