The Science of Sleep

" Stéphane: [Shows 3-D glasses ] You can see real life in 3-D
Stéphanie: Isn't life already in 3-D?
Stéphane: Yeah but, come on.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as I probably have mentioned more than once, is a movie I love. It gets everything right. It's unbearably romantic without being sappy, it's smart, it makes sense, it features people with true flaws instead of the standard rom-com "quirks", and its ending is both unexpected and inevitable. Some find it cynical, but I think it couldn't possibly be more optimistic.

All this time, I somehow gave 100% of the credit for this wonderful film to Charlie Kaufman. That is, I did until I saw the Science of Sleep. Now I'm not so sure any more.

Oh, Kaufman is definitely responsible for how neatly the plot fits. For the surreal idea at the basis also, probably. But for the heart, the optimism, the idealism (if that's the right word)? For that, I now think we have Michel to thank.

See, The Science Of Sleep, written by, directed by, and clearly entirely of Michel Gondry, is all heart, all warmth, and again without even becoming sappy or predictable. It's less clever, less carefully constructed than Eternal Sunshine, and rather than ending in a perfectly formed and placed period it unravels like a homemade sweater, but despite and somehow also because of that it might be the movie I like better. The one I'll return to more often. I might even go see it again in theatres, something I've never done.

I've always had a longing to be creative. I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to make music, sing, paint, craft, anything really as long as it meant creating something that wasn't there before, and couldn't have been without me. As I aged, more and more options closed off as I discovered I had no particular musical talent (I tried the piano, the guitar, singing in a band, singing in a choir), that my most serviceable drawing was of my left hand, and that clay, in my hands, refused to become anything but just that: a lump of clay. The one glimmer of artistic talent I could discover in myself was writing, but even there... There is a scene in The Man Who Wasn't There where Scarlett Johanssen has just played for the famed french piano teacher, and Ed anxiously await his judgment. "She's a nice girl", the man says. "She plays...like a nice girl."

I've always felt like I write "like a nice girl" (whether I am in fact nice is still a matter under discussion).

I also discovered, however, that I was a pretty good spectator. Someone who noticed things most other people didn't, someone who could get lost entirely in a different world, mostly in books at first but then also in movies, in music.

I know this is a long digression, but stick with me a little longer, there is a point and I'm getting to it. See, just when I had made my peace with the fact that I would be a spectator rather than a creator in this world, I went to a screening of "the Science of Sleep". Not only did it re-awaken my desire to create somehing, anything, but it made it seem like a possibility. It made the entire world feel full of possibilities.

Most movies about creative people keep you at a distance. You see them paint, compose, write, but as a viewer you remain outside, looking in. It seems in film, it's as difficult to show the creative process than it is to illustrate how a mathematician thinks. Or should I say "seemed"?

What's made in the Science of Sleep is not, by any stretch, "high art". Clouds made of cotton, a sea made of candy wrappers, a toy horse that hobbles. But there's so much fun here. So much enthusiasm. And it feels like you're part of the creative process, like you're sharing in a secret with the main characters.

There is also, or course, a lot about love. Stephane and Stephanie, that's got to be meant to be, n'est-ce pas? It's impossible not to fall for Gael Garcia Bernal as Stephane, the boy who can't really distinguish dreams from reality, and who charmingly mingles French, English and Spanish. He cooks up dreams within his dreams, and they're a concoction that's both eclectic and oddly tangible and down to earth. And how could we not fall in love with his next-door neighbour Stephanie (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) outwardly tough but with oh-so-recognisable insecurities lurking just under the surface, who needs only a little encouragement to come out to play with Stephane in his dream world, but who has a hard time finding the patience to deal with all his odd behavior?

Still, even if the love story is front and center, the movie is ultimately about more than just relationships, and that might be what makes it stronger than Eternal Sunshine. Aside from revolving around two people who belong together and whether they will, in fact, make it, it's first and foremost about creativity. About being and staying a dreamer. About seeing the world with fresh eyes, as I certainly did after walking out of the theatre, blinking against the harsh sunlight of reality.

The feeling of possibility fades all too quickly, I'm afraid. Maybe that's why I long to get myself a new shot of optimism by seeing the film again. In any case, I know one thing for sure: Michel Gondry is not just a guy who can do amazing things with his toes. He's also someone in whose world I'd love to live.

N.B. Dreamers be warned. Click here only if you're a cynic.

" Stéphane: P. S. R. Parallel Synchronized Randomness. An interesting brain rarity and our subject for today. Two people walk in opposite directions at the same time and then they make the same decision at the same time. Then they correct it, and then they correct it, and then they correct it, and then they correct it, and then they correct it. Basically, in a mathematical world these two little guys will stay looped for the end of time. The brain is the most complex thing in the universe and it's right behind the nose. "

Further Reading:
Gondry interviewed about dreams
A little about his new project

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