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Arts & Culture

The Science Of Sleep

French director Michel Gondry likes to look inside peoples heads to see what clutter and chaos lurks within. He poked around the memories of a jilted lover in

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Now he enters into a young mans dreams for

The Science of Sleep (opening September 29 at Landmarks La Jolla Village and Hillcrest Cinemas). KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has this review.


Stephane: Uno, dos, tres, quarto Hi welcome back to another episode of television educative

Welcome to Stephane TVa makeshift studio with egg carton walls built three-quarters of the way around a stove cluttered with rapidly boiling pots. A pair of cardboard boxes mounted on tripods serve as cameras ready to televise Stephanes latest experiment.

Stephane: Tonight Ill show you how dreams are prepared, people think its a very simple and easy process but its a bit more complicated than that

And even more complicated for Stephane who cant always tell where dreams end and reality begins. Yet he professes to know exactly what goes into making a dream.

Stephane: As you can see a very delicate combination of complex ingredients is key. First we put in some random thoughts, then we add a little bit of reminiscences of the day mixed with some memories from the past, its for two people


And voila! Stephane has just concocted a dream. But the dream as well as Stephane TV exist only in Stephanes head, which is also where much of the film The Science of Sleep takes place.

Stephanie: Stephane, are you in there?

Thats Stephanes neighbor Stephanie

Stephane: No Im here.

Stephanie: Describe all that you can see.

Trying to communicate with him while hes in a dream. Stephane is attracted to Stephanies artistic nature. He tries to win her over with goofy inventions, like eye glasses that allow you to see the world in 3D or a time travel machine that lets you travel one second backwards or forward in time.

Science of Sleep

Stephane: The time machine is here [Rewind SFX] and it works.

He seeks to collaborate with her in creating a fantasy world. At one point, he tells her to throw puffy material into the air to make clouds, while he tries to find the musical chord that will keep the object magically suspended in the air.

Stephane: No try it again wrong chord I knew it, each structure has its own chord.

Like Stephane, filmmaker Michel Gondry strives very hard to create a magical fantasy world where viewers can suspend their disbelief. Publicity material describes his film as a playful romantic fantasy and a whimsical trip into a cut-and-paste wonderland fashioned from cardboard tubes, cellophane, and imagination. The film begins with delightful cleverness, unfortunately Gondry cant sustain it.

Gondry comes from commercials and music video, and gained attention for directing The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind . Gondry conceived the story for that film with Charlie Kaufman but Kaufman was the one responsible for the intricate, inventive script. Kaufmans script may have seemed chaotic on the surface but he endowed it with logic and order as well. His attention to narrative detail is what Gondry lacks in The Science of Sleep.

In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind , a character tried to erase memories of a relationship gone sour. The film began with unpleasant recent memories and ended with the giddiness of falling in love. The reverse nature of the narrative structure took us from the bitter end of a relationship to the sweet promise of a first meet. Thus Kaufman began with his characters at their worst, and moved from their flaws to their virtues. In The Science of Sleep , Gondry does the opposite. He opens with Stephane at his most charming and lets him coast through the film on endearing goofiness. But then Gondry serves up an abrupt tonal shift.

Stephane: You better be there when I get back. Im gonna wake up now.

In the final scenes, Gondry shows an ugly side to Stephanes character as he lashes out at Stephanie, even making crude sexual comments. Gondry explains Stephanes behavior as a kind of Tourettes Syndrome where he cant control himself. But coming this late in the film it seems like a rude and ill-conceived reality check.

Gondry reveals more talent as a director than a screenwriter. His skill lies in the way he brings a script to visual life. The Science of Sleep scores best in its unique, handmade looking special effects. But Gondrys script fails to deliver any emotional resonance. His film plays as a self-indulgent artistic exercise thats visually appealing but emotionally hollow. The Science of Sleep is doubly disappointing because it starts so well and ends so badly.

Companion viewing: Being John Malkovich, The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Adaptation