The Science of Sleep


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Stephane, a very shy and insecure young man who is socially clumsy, is falling in love with an equally shy girl. He's a very creative thinker, and everything that happens between them gets re-interpreted through his dreams. In turn, everything that happens in his dreams gets re-examined in reality. The reality also gets re-examined in reality, since he is a sincere man who constantly worries about the meaning of small physical gestures or subtle shifts in vocal tones in respect to the girl's feelings for him. Underlying it all is the fear of rejection which affects all of us to some degree, but affects shy people in highly significant ways which can completely dominate their lives. The Science of Sleep exists in the dream and real worlds simultaneously, and it is not always clear to us which we are watching. There's a good reason for that. We cannot always differentiate between Stephane's dreams and reality because Stephane himself is not completely certain which is which, and we are stuck within his point of view.

The most amazing thing about the film is that the two lead performers, Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, seem to understand exactly what writer/director Michel Gondry wants to achieve, which is not an easy thing to achieve in a surreal environment, and have managed to deliver astounding performances, so natural and unaffected that they seem not to be acting at all. Bernal also has a tremendous gift for comic timing, something I had not really realized from his previous performances. Those two sympathetic characterizations are the film's greatest strengths, since they draw us in and keep us involved in a story which could otherwise be considered too rambling to command ongoing focus in a world of short attention spans. The film takes a deliberately low-tech approach to special effects (think Pee-Wee's Playhouse), and that accentuates the natural, heartfelt performances beautifully. The performers are also supported by some imaginative visuals and writing by Gondry, who has already directed one masterpiece about the inner workings of the brain, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The film also has its weaknesses, primarily deriving from its complete lack of structure. I could tell you that it doesn't have an ending, but that would be a bit misleading, since it doesn't really have a storyline either, so there is nothing to end. But I'm going to ignore that for a moment and just note that the film ends in an infuriatingly ambiguous way which left me wondering if the DVD had been mastered correctly. Were there scenes missing? No. The writer/director was hoping to end the film in the dream world, thus forcing us to speculate about the underlying reality which might be driving the final dream. This was an alternative to spelling the reality out. He succeeded in the sense that the film's ending has generated considerable debate and discussion. Personally, I think ambiguity is a sign of subtlety and encourages audience involvement, so I applaud it in general, but I think this film could have benefited from a little less anarchy. Then again, perhaps that's just me thinking in linear terms and wanting to balance equations that have no solutions.

Excluding the ending, which seems to suffer from the typical pretentiousness of surrealism, the film manages to achieve something rarely seen in cinematic attempts at portraying the subconscious: The Science of Sleep is warm, human, and approachable. Stephane is happier and more competent in his dreams than in real life, which makes them a pleasant place for us to visit with him. The subconscious mind is normally portrayed in films and literature as a frightening place, and most attempts to portray it are aloof, but The Science of Sleep takes a different approach. It is the new, improved, cuddly surrealism!


Commentary by writer-director Michel Gondry, Gael Garcia Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Sacha Bourdo

The Making of The Science of Sleep

Featurette on Lauri Faggioni, creator of Animals and Accessories

Linda Serbu "Rescue Me" music video; Adopt Some Love: a Linda Serbu film


2 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
67 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
70 (of 100)


7.8 IMDB summary (of 10)
B- Yahoo Movies


Box Office Mojo. It was an arthouse feature in the USA and grossed about four million dollars in 243 theaters. It grossed about eight million overseas. (Gondry is French, and the film is partially in French.)



Aurelia Petit showed one nipple in a bath scene in which she was otherwise covered in cellophane.

If you use the pause button, you can see Gael Garcia Bernal do a very brief full-frontal.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


One wants to reward independent filmmakers with wildly original films, and this film is outstanding in many ways, but it can't be higher than a C+. It was only a moderate critical success (2/3 good reviews), and is an arthouse film, not the type of film with broad box-office appeal. How many people do you know who like to listen to other people describe their dreams?