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
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.