The Science of Sleep
is about being young, shy, unsure and in love in ways profound
and beautiful, honest and brutal. Holy fuck, what a great movie.
What a God-damned masterpiece, made of spit, sticks, mud and
cardboard. Director Michel Gondry's achievement is like someone
building a Ferrari out of squirrel bones, and it not only working,
but winning F1. That's not easy, take it from someone who knows.
First, you have to find enough squirrels, and they do stop hanging
around you no matter how much baloney you bring them.
The story moves in dream time, disjointed, floaty
and hazy. Bernal has those dreams where his hands are enormous.
I get that sensation just before I fall asleep, and I love it.
(I like too when I'm so damn tired or drunk that I feel like
my body is sinking into the mattress as though it were quicksand.)
Reality and Bernal's dreams are strings that run parallel, intertwine
and separate and then twine again. At some points in the movie,
I didn't what was real and what was imagined. That isn't important,
though. That's the audience falling into the same rhythm as
Bernal, who also doesn't know.
The plot is simple and classic: boy meets girl;
boy likes girl; boy sabotages any hope he has for girl. But
the movie is about recreating the feelings, not documenting
the events. Gael Garc╠a Bernal is the young and timid hero.
He returns from Mexico to his childhood apartment in Paris after
his father's death. A sensitive artist type, he often confuses
his dreams and reality. He imagines himself the host of a talk-show
about his own life, conducted in a cardboard studio behind his
eyelids. He dreams of being the kingpin in a cheesy druglord
drama. In Paris, he sleeps in his childhood bed, surrounded
by his childhood art supplies and fantasies. Maybe it's his
mother trying to keep him a child or keep him physically or
emotionally near. Regardless, he accepts the arrangement, including
a shitty job that his mother got him.
When he meets his next-door neighbor Charlotte
Gainsbourg, an art-store employee, he feels the swelling lump
of uncertainty that comes with unrequited love. He begins his
courtship of her the way every shy young man does: by expecting
her to hate him. Alternating giddy excitement and self-loathing,
he goes to great lengths to impress her, including building
her a stuffed toy pony that can run, lying about where he lives,
and building her a one-second time machine that uses old flash
bulbs to transport the user forward or backward in time one
When left on his own and to his active imagination,
Bernal comes up with a million ways to overanalyze and misinterpret
what has happened. After seeing The Science of Sleep
the feeling washed over me like the chills of a bad fever when
you get out of your sickbed. A moment's rush of adrenaline over
the possibility of love followied by hours of dread, laying
in bed playing out how badly wrong it can all go, or how stupid
I was in thinking a simple touch or gesture meant anything.
Or how I shouldn't have told her I liked sniffing armpits or
made that joke about fucking nuns.
After all, we live with ourselves and understand
all the reasons nobody should ever love us. We know we pick
our noses, cheat at crossword puzzles, are selfish and petty.
I know what an asshole I am and how I steal change from hobos
and knocked over the cooler and spilled everything they collected
at the Elk's blood drive. Why in the world would anyone love
That question fueled my existence for years;
I hoped a girl loved me until my brain reverse engineered it
until I understood she couldn't possibly tolerate what a horrible
person I was at the core. It's a sensation I forgot in the complacency
of comfortable cohabitation. The uncertaintly's a shitty feeling,
sure, but also dramatic, and without despair, there can be no
hope. So you're up and down: she loves me! She hates me! She
loves me! How soon will she hate me? Some girls, I may never
know how they felt because I sabotaged myself long before bothering
to find out. Other girls, well, shit, they really did hate me.
Or they thought kicking me in the nuts was a gesture of affection.
Some people treat relationships like selling
a used car: hide the deficiencies. A little spit and polish
and don't show under the hood until the deal is consummated.
Or, in romantic parlance, until after you fuck. They're all
about closing the deal. Then, there are those of us, like Bernal
in the movie, who have a compulsive need to be overly honest,
who can't resist revealing our worst traits, even when we're
not asked. We want to fail because it's easier that succeeding
and living with the fear that failure is still ahead.
Gainsbourgh likes Bernal, maybe as much as he
likes her. Though, she's just almost as shy about saying it
as he is. He wants badly for her to tell him so, but when she
does, he's asleep. Besides, even if he were awake, he'd find
a way not to believe her. I always did.
The Science of Sleep is perfectly pitched.
Bernal and Gainsbourg give beautiful, natural performances.
No hamming, no ego. Bernal lets go completely. Obviously, he
gets both the sadness and the humor of the position a sensitive
boy gets himself into when he falls in love. And the movie is
fucking funny. Sometimes gorgeous, simple and funny all at once.
A note on an organ makes cotton ball clouds hover in mid-air.
Cardboard cutout cities loom menacingly outside of windows.
Director Gondry uses low-tech stop-motion animation, cardboard
and found objects to fill the dreamscapes. It's not annoying,
it's inspiring how much art can be made from so little. What
he does is not easy. I was so inspired tried making a go-kart
from a roll of toilet paper when I got home, and alls I got
was a plugged nostril.
The Science of Sleep is a great fucking
dream. It's a great movie too. Five Fingers. It made
me want to be young again and so in love that I hated myself.