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La Science des rêves
2006

The Science of Sleep* focuses on a young man who exists in a waking life of dream symbolism. He has returned to France following the death of his Mexican father, and the combination of his poor French and his new acquaintances’ poor Spanish and English compounds his shaky grasp of human interaction.

Stéphane is somewhat fortunate, however, that his dream state bleeds into the waking world. He is able to invent a working time machine (albeit a machine with a one-second range) and a fantastic mechanical structure that makes a plush pony gallop independently around the room.

The visuals are often lovely and surprisingly accurate to dream logic, especially as they resist the temptation to portray the dreamscape as huge, fantastic, and detailed. As in dreams, here the focus is on the immediate details, the huge clumsy hands, the bathtub filled with cellophane water, with backgrounds clumsily sketched in or misaligned. Fortunately as well no character forces those cutting-edge Freudian interpretations. Stéphane interprets his dreams, and his life, according to an interior neurotic mythology; the others tolerate his perpetual dream state, to varying degrees, with the attitude of those who want to avoid the effort of organising an intervention.

SoS catches and holds the limnal feeling between dreaming and waking, the confusion and relief and fear in the inability to separate actions from uncontrolled fantasy. While that’s an admirable feat, I question the romantic structural device. The film’s site includes a blurb from some outlet named Paper calling it the “ultimate date movie.” Perhaps for two people of the sort who want the main characters in every movie to settle down together, including the titular figures in Alien vs Predator, but most first dates taking in this movie would end partway into the final credits, as both parties decided to really give asexuality a chance this time.

The final scene breeches the line between successful romantic quirkiness and final descent into psychosis. While it’s easy for many to identify with Stéphane’s painful shyness and disappointments, it is difficult to root for him. He is as scattered and melodramatic as a dream state; people only exist as referents to his internal symbolic matrix and to his semi-formed desires. As Stephanie drew closer to Stéphane, she became a less interesting character, already a little weary, and if they were to settle down together in romantic-movie fashion, she would continue to sacrifice her own creativity and individuality to surfing his internal shifts. As a romance, with both characters lessening as they come together, it fails.

There are other, better threads in the narrative neglected in favour of the burgeoning “romance”: his mother, for all her efforts to bring him to her, never connects. His deceased father is the dominant force of the first quarter of the film, but disappears as a concept without Stéphane progressing. He forgets he is grieving? Interaction with these people and the past that has left him confused and disconnected would have developed him more and avoided the “relationship saves all” evasion.

In life, this would be for Stephanie a brief, disappointing but memorable affair, ending in a difficult disentanglement (which she would someday describe as “Johnson had an easier time pulling out of Vietnam,” before—of course—discovering him just behind her with a wounded ‘I am so going to trash you on my livejournal’ air), while he went on to idolise and drain girl after girl. A sad relationship for a sad imaginary world, making the final scene either forced and false to Stephanie’s character, or bitterly misanthropic.

 

*changed from the original, in French, The Science of Dreams, perhaps to make the title spell S-O-S—Stéphane’s social interactions as one inclusive cry for help.

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