So, indeed, I did watch the Science of Sleep the night before last. I enjoyed it massively, in fact it was an incredibly personally affective film for me. A little nerve-wracking almost, for all the naive silliness that goes on. I’ll explain in a moment.
First off let me mention that the french title is shown as ‘La Science de Rêves’ which means dreams rather than sleep. It also is closely connected to reveille, meaning awake, and reminding me entirely of the bugle call to wake people up. Admittedly, this is confusing etymologies from different languages, but in fact, the film does that alot, so I think it’s allowed. I personally would say that this means that the translation lost out on something by trying to make it sound a bit more abstract. Detached, maybe.
Anyway, I think waking might be more important to the film than initially considered.
But yeah, it’s basically about dreams. This is definitely true. In fact it’s about blurs between dream and reality. Stephane, the main character, seems to make no distinction between the two. At first this appears to make his life seem so much more wonderful. His mundane work becomes wonderfully surreal, and his fantasy life allows him to achieve the impossible (keeping cotton wool clouds in the sky with the right chord from the broken piano, for example).
For me this premise, while wonderful and hilarious, contained a seed of fear.
Many who know me, or who have read certain blog entries carefully, will be aware that I’ve had insomnia problems, and issues with a breakdown related to taking drugs at a young age. Perhaps one of the scariest things about those experiences was not being able to filter between reality and fantasy. Horrific dreams and nightmares blend into reality and become only logically indistinguishable…and logic has abandoned.
This came through in the film. As a viewer, it was virtually impossible to say which moments were waking and which weren’t. Whenever things were being absolutely ludicrous and surreal, it would suddenly become clear that reality was there, somehow. The the most mundane and real events would shoot into strange cardboard versions of the same thing.
What I find most strange about the reviews of the film that I’ve read, is that they talk about the dream world slowly taking over. On reflection it seems like the dream world is most prominent from the very opening. We are presented with a first day at work that simply must be fantasy, but then, when Stephane wakes up, he is telling his mother about the boring nature of his first day at work.
Chunks of the film are missing, inexplicable. The world view doesn’t entirely hang together. Stephane loses control of himself when he is dreaming. Constantly snapping between worlds in a way he seems unable to control.
The audience is laughing, but Stephane (and me) become increasingly uncomfortable. (I was also laughing…the film is hilarious, gaggles of puns, audio and visual, and neat tricks litter the whole thing. Purely wonderful ideas all over the place).
Not having a grip on reality is a most terrifying thing, even as it can be wonderful. I personally need to discipline myself into being closer to the real a lot of the time. I get a certain feeling sometime, like my brain is ready to disintegrate. I recognise the feeling now, and every time I tell it to calm down…take stock of what’s around me, and shy away from absurdity. My discipline brings me back to the real and definite.
The problem is that it’s really tempting to escape. Fantasy worlds are inevitably terrifying and dangerous. You lose the ability to react correctly to the people around you,you put them and yourself at risk.
The problem is the excitement. The imagination is an incredible thing. Letting it loose can give you complete control of the world around you, albeit only by relinquishing the grip on that world. It instantly becomes out of your control. In my experience it’s almost always been terrifying.
But so exciting.
I don’t think I can even attempt to adequately explain what I mean.
A realm where possibilities are endless and nothing is real?
I guess that’s dreaming. But to do it all the time? Don’t take the risk.
That’s the sensible thing to say and do (the route I take, each and every day).
I don’t really want to be back in the place where I have my friends trying to force me to take sleeping medication, and me entirely believing them to be orderlies in a psychiatric ward, even though we were all still in my bedroom. I don’t want to be standing in a pub with friends to suddenly find that my cock is hanging out (it wasn’t) and that everyone can see me (and see through me). I ran home despite the fact that everything was actually fine. (For the record…these are two of the much less harrowing experiences I went through during that bout of insomnia. It’s too early in the morning for me to dredge up anything really hardcore…I’ve got to go to work soon).
Yet part of me always wants to ride that ride again. I’m always tempted to take more hallucinogens, just to see if I can ride that much closer to the edge of reality without falling off. Just to see if maybe the other side is where the real is. Where the good shit is.
I felt like the science of sleep dealt with some of this. Without really facing up to it. Which is the right way to deal with it. It showed you the fantasy, made you fall in love with it…but doesn’t resolve it. The ending is beautiful, but scary. He’s clearly quite mad by the end (I don’t believe in mad…but that really isn’t the point right now), and his behaviour is irrational and at least a little terrifying.
Love is a strange and unusual thing at the best of time….fantasy worlds rarely give it a helping hand.
I got the impression (perhaps I’m projecting myself onto him here) that Gondry could’ve gone further with this. I’ve read that elements are autobiographical, and I reckon if he faced up to it he could have really explored some even darker and more frightening stuff.
I think it was the right thing to do to restrain it though. I felt like the freedom of the film to garner interpretation is it’s strength. What I find interesting is that most people seem to think that the couple are together by the end, the affection is returned. This seemed to me to be opposite to the truth. I guess it’s all ambiguous. Fantasy is hard to delineate in this world.
I don’t think the absurdity of Gondry’s film is that far from reality. Sometimes we don’t look hard enough.
Just remember that if you’re on a tight rope, you need good balance.