The Science of Sleep

Sacha Bourdo as Serge, Gael García Bernal as Stephane, and Alain Chabat as Guy in The Science of Sleep. (Photo credit: Etienne George,
© 2006 Gaumont–Partizan Films)

Michel Gondry is a very frustrating guy. In moments of The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and his remarkable music videos, he emits a wondrous visual flair, a perfect synthesis of concept and visual execution. But most of the time, he’s a flake.

In The Science of Sleep he regurgitates his gimmick: mix equal parts melancholic, syrupy, unrequited love, quirky humor, and impressive visual flair with a trippy narrative structure, and voila—a guaranteed critical darling. The Science of Sleep is certainly original and fun, but ultimately there’s very little to it. It’s too slight and self-knowing to be truly grand surrealism, and too dodgy to be a real movie.

Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal) has an unreliable grip on reality. Basically, he can’t tell when he’s awake and when he’s in one of his elaborate dreams in which he runs his own TV show (on a cardboard set) and swims in cellophane water. Stephane has moved from Mexico into his mother’s empty Paris apartment and takes a boring job assembling calendars. When Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a pretty, high-cheeked woman, moves into the unit next door, Stephane falls in love, but his romantic attempts become increasingly misguided and muddled as the waking-dreaming worlds blur.

And that’s it. The entire movie is just dreaming and waking. I’m by no means someone who demands a three-act structure, but when a movie is this cutesy and hip and yet so meandering, it feels more aimless than eccentric.

Gael Garcia Bernal in The Science of Sleep

There are some lovely things. Bernal, one of the most appealing young actors around, is both charming and disconcerting. Gainsbourg is understated and natural, and the supporting cast, especially Alain Chabat as Stephane’s boorish co-worker, are goofy and fun. Gondry has a very competent eye and his visuals are genuinely fanciful and clever. But in the end, The Science of Sleep disappoints. One is left with a mildly diverting movie, wondering when Gondry will do something meaningful. B-