Written and directed by Michel Gondry, and starring Mexican actor/director Gael Garcia Bernal as the eccentric nightdream deceiver/daydream believer, swimming through tubular waves of intoxicating portraits of exciting alternate visions of his drab life. Is he the mad inventor of a time machine? a great animator? a maker of weird animal objects that one rides? Is he incapable of relationships with others, so he hides in his world of make believe? Is he the creator, or just another lost soul swimming in a fish bowl? The film plays with reality, and never truly defines whether or not the lead character is insane.
Which is good. Who wants to be told one is crazy? Indeed, why must we dream in metaphors, trying to figure out what we can’t understand, when the journey, the adventure is so wild, so free, so independent, so exotic and rich, free of annoying employer overlords, and independent of daily responsibilities, of daily relationships.
Ahhh…we find the rub of it all. Rub—good action word to define the night; its meaning is quite the opposite in terms of daytime cerebral activity. Bernal’s character, Stephane Miroux, is a mixed breed, half Spanish, half French, who speaks English throughout most of the film, and finds himself veering in and out of tortured reality while working at a calendar printing company in France. His co-workers are arguably crazier than him, and that is where the film gets its true resonance. We see inside Stephane’s wild dreams, his offbeat daydreams which document his triumphs, his disaster; we see inside his soul. But he can’t truly see inside himself, and, consequently, his relationships suffer.
His next door neighbor in his French apartment complex is Stephanie, and she is played by the beautifully complex Charlotte Gainsbourg, actor/musician/daughter of actress/singer Jane Birkin and the legendary musician, Serge Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg attempts complex goals—single, she is attracted to Stephane, the names are the first, most obvious clues of the two characters, forever linking herself to the social misfit, Stephane; she wants to know him; she has creative potential, and the ability to get things done.
Stephane and Stephanie vow to work on a project to be included in an animated film. And they do to a certain extent, but they never quite venture into it in conventional terms, and that is also where the true elegance and arc of the story takes off. Stephane’s mind appears to implode into toxic daydreamery while Stephanie waits on the edge of sanity’s cliff, waits for Stephane to come back to reality—one, so they can finish the work; two, so their relationship can evolve. Eventually, inevitably, absurdly, Stephane starts missing his daily job, and drifts away from his strange partnership with his beleaguered next door neighbor, as his fantasies overtake and consume his life.
Henceforth, the film morphs into a bizarre statement of inspiration and actualization as we ride on the back of Stephane’s visions, and eventually see Stephanie not only contributing to his surreal sequences, but enhancing them, projecting her own visions on to a whole new canvas. She is the silent heroine of the film and his life. There is a myth about the personification of the veil between reality and fantasy, and Stephanie eases into that role in Stephane’s world with subtle understatement. She finds a way to complete his portraits without sacrificing the inner inspiration that guided him all along the way. Suffice to say, you’ve never seen a film about the creative process, or love triumphing over insanity, quite like this. Hell, you may not want to duplicate that feat.
La Science des rêves plays with the notions of creativity and madness. The film toys with the idea of relationships between others, time and space, and that girl across the hall. If one has ever danced close enough to those flames, it can burn for quite some time after the whole thing blows up in smoke. Sure, yes, the Great Went. But the Great also GO, and what one captures at the time, can often appear to be a load of shite in the rear view mirror. So…lesson learned. Get the work done. Let history decide its fate.