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by Jenina Singh, staff writer

In the opening scene, Stephane (Gael Garcia Bernal of Motorcycle Diaries) tells the secret recipe of dreams in a dream: “random thoughts, reminisces of the day, memories of the past, love relationships, friendships, songs, and thoughts.” After that it’s only seconds before the offbeat boy-man is swimming through liquid air, with streaming vanilla skies, and crayon-colored paper buildings that sway with the wind.

Only through the naïve and childlike sentiment of Stephane could emotions ring so true. A move back to his childhood home, after the recent death of his father, has Stephane sleeping in his old room in a child’s twin bed that has his feet dangling, and a light pullstring that triggers a train set to run across the room and shut off the lights.

The Science of Sleep has multiple layers of content, feeling, and messages. There is so much going on—obvious statements hinted with underlying messages that are then overlapped with larger-than-life childlike imagination and dreams. Subsequent scenes add more confusion as they provide no perspective on previous scenes. The randomness of dream events only adds to the bewilderment yet increases the viewer’s curiosity about the outcome.

When Stephane falls asleep we are introduced to “Stephane TV,” a one-man variety show that takes place in his mind. Filled with egg-shell carton walls and cardboard box cameras, it resembles a kid’s playhouse, revealing much about Stephane. He hosts the show of his life. On one occasion we are privileged to see Stephane’s three-person band, the members of which wear animal costumes and sing love songs.

One of the major themes in the movie is creativity. It is the ability to be creative and create that draws Stephane to the girl across the hall–Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Originally interested in Stephanie’s friend Zoe, Stephane later takes to Stephanie saying, “I like her because she makes things with her hands,” and she reminds him of his father, who was a professional magician. Stephane is convinced that they were meant to be together because he believes his own theory of Parallel Synchronized Randomness—where two people end up together because of the same thought pattern.

It is their collaboration on a dream project that convinces Stephane of their Parallel Synchronized Randomness—a fabric boat, with a forest in it, looking for water; it sails in blue cellophane water, and the trees have big leaves so they can catch the wind.

Unfortunately, it is this shared creativity that also keeps them apart. Stephane’s imagination creates vivid and powerful dreams that often leave him confused about what is real. In one incident, he randomly asks Stephanie if she will marry him, believing it to be a dream. When he realizes it isn’t, he freaks out and Stephanie becomes increasingly perplexed.

In one scene Stephanie is awakened from a sleep by two woven fabric worms making scratching noises outside the front door. When she goes to investigate, she finds Stephane using a coat hanger to grab the note he mistakenly slipped under her door during a dream. Although this was the only time in the movie when we see a dream perspective from Stephanie, it leads us to believe that she also experiences the crossover between dreams and realty.

In many ways we see Stephanie as Stephane’s adult counterpart. They both embody the same creativity and imagination except Stephanie is bound by the realities of adulthood. Unlike Stephane, Stephanie abides by societal norms, like the responsibility of going to work. The relationships among adults and the experience that comes with it is something that is foreign to Stephane and often leaves him hurt. In one scene, he says, “I can’t control my feelings, but you don’t have to humiliate me.”
His thoughts and feelings may burst through the scenes in his dreams, yet, throughout the movie, we are guessing which scenes are full-on dreams, or full-on real life. The two, continuously overlapping, leave Stephane and viewers confused as to what is a dream and what is reality.

The film ends with a dream of Stephane and Stephanie in the boat with a forest in a dream about their collaborate dream-project, sailing through blue cellophane water.

We are left wondering about the irony of his ability to control dreams and the simultaneous regression of his ability to distinguish what is real and not.


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