On “The Science of Sleep” by Michel Gondry: a Psychological Critique

This is one of the most polarizing and hauntingly beautiful films I have ever seen. A movie so emotionally packed that audiences promptly fall into one of two camps: the hopeless romantics, absolutely smitten or the average consumer, completely repulsed.

After the death of his father, Stefan returns to Paris, distraught and manic, locking himself within his mother’s apartment but not before falling hopelessly in love with the neighbor, Stephanie, equally manic, vastly apathetic. A hilariously emotional romp ensues as our lead, Stefan, finds himself struggling to distinguish dreams from reality. Meanwhile the audience is privy to Stefan’s dreams, as director, Michel Gondry distinguishes fantasy from reality through a series of fantastical stop-motion segments –utilizing claymation, cardboard cutouts, and an arsenal of craft supplies.

I can’t think of a more genuinely haunting display of one man’s falling into love and, unrequited as it is, slipping into insanity. Like peeking through the blinds of a most private scene we’re at once enthralled and heartbroken. For at the heart of Gondry’s project is the question, What is reality? And furthermore, What am I doing here? It’s a clash of the self. A feud between id, ego, and the superego.

Gondry represents that ethereal space just one-step ahead such auteurs as Wes Anderson. Yet, a relatable charm permeates his body of work –out to support the underdog, regardless of the outcome, which, as we see with Stefan –we find ourselves at once swollen with empathy yet also remorseful as our heroes explore the outer limits of sanity.

If you’re one of the lucky few to sit through the entirety of the film, it must be encouraged to consider your emotions immediately after for this is a film meant to inspire in-depth introspection, leaving the audience with one burning question, Is this reality? Don’t be so sure!

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