The Science of Sleep  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Science of Sleep, or (La Science des rêves) (literally The Science of Dreams), is a 2006 oneiric and surrealist film, written and directed by Michel Gondry. The film stars Gael García Bernal, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Miou-Miou and Alain Chabat.

Plot summary

The film tells the story of Stéphane (Gael García Bernal), a young man whose vivid dreams and imagination often interfere with his ability to interact with reality.

Stéphane is coaxed back to his childhood home, an apartment building in France, after his mother finds him a job. He has recently moved from Mexico, the birthplace of his father, who died of cancer when Stéphane was young. The job turns out to be a very mundane position at a small company that manufactures novelty calendars. He initially assumed he would be working creatively, even preparing a twelve month work-in-progress entitled "Disasterology", a calendar with a colorful illustration of a disaster for each month. Unfortunately, neither his co-workers nor his boss appreciate his talents.

While leaving his apartment to go to work one day, Stéphane attempts to aid two men who are having trouble carrying a piano up a flight of stairs. In doing so, Stéphane's hand is injured and the piano falls down the flight of stairs. The owner of the piano is Stéphane's new neighbor, Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who invites Stéphane into her apartment while her friend Zoé (Emma de Caunes) tends to his wound. In conversation, it is evident to the two women that Stéphane is somewhat shy and has trouble speaking French. Zoé uses this information to tease Stéphane, trying to trick him into believing that Zoé and Stéphanie are record executives. When Stéphanie scolds Zoé for toying with Stéphane, Stéphane becomes uncomfortable and leaves.

Stéphane initially forms an attraction to Zoé, though he suspects it is instead Stéphanie who likes him. While visiting Stéphanie's apartment on a later occasion, Stéphane realizes that she, like he, is creative and artistic. They excitedly plan to create a model of a white boat with a forest inside of it, for use in a short animated film. Unfortunately for Stéphane, Stéphanie suggests that it's best if they begin working on it on another day. Following the advice of Guy (Alain Chabat), Stéphane's sex-obsessed co-worker, Stéphane pretends that he isn't Stéphanie's neighbor, pretending to leave the building when he leaves her apartment. That night, however, Stéphane writes an absurd note in mangled French during his accidental sleep in his bathtub. He dreams that he delivers Stéphanie the note, telling her that he is "her neighbor, a liar" and asks for Zoé's phone number. Waking up, he is horrified to find wet footprints leading to Stéphanie's door. He uses a coat hanger to retrieve the note out from under Stéphanie's door, unaware that Stéphanie has already read it. Though some portions of this are surrealistic, and others are naturalistic, the viewer is never certain of which portions are real; even the seemingly realistic sections may be merely dreams.

Stéphane becomes more enamored with Stéphanie as he spends more time with her and shares his many inventions with her. He gives her a "one-second time machine" as a gift. He asks her repeatedly if she will marry him, a proposal that she consistently rejects.

Stéphane's dreams become more encroaching on his waking life as he tries to win Stéphanie's heart. He breaks into Stéphanie's apartment, takes her small, stuffed horse and builds a motor into it. While putting it back into her apartment, Stéphanie arrives and catches him, shocked, calling him "creepy." Embarrassed and heartbroken, Stéphane retreats to his apartment where he receives a call from Stéphanie who apologizes and thanks him for the gift she discovers: a galloping version of "Golden the Pony Boy," named after Stéphane.

Waking and dreaming become even more intermixed. In a one scene which is perhaps made to seem like a dream (according to the director's commentary on the DVD, it is in fact taking place in real life, though many mistake it as a dream), to Stéphane's surprise, the calendar manufacturer accepts his "Disastrology" idea and it becomes a great success. A party is thrown in his honor, but he becomes depressed and begins drinking excessively after he witnesses Stéphanie dancing flirtatiously with men. Stéphane and Stéphanie then have a confrontation in their hallway when Stéphane announces that he doesn't want to be Stéphanie's friend any longer. Stéphanie becomes very upset, offering Zoé's phone number and reciting Stéphane's note. Stéphane, still unaware that Stéphanie has read the note, assumes that they are connected through "Parallel Synchronized Randomness," a rare phenomenon he has discussed on Stéphane TV, an imaginary television program that Stéphane hosts, produces, and performs music for. Stéphanie offers that they discuss their issues on a date, but on Stéphane's walk to the café to meet her, he has a frightful and sudden realization that she isn't there and she doesn't love him. He runs back to her apartment and bangs on her door, demanding that she stop torturing him, though, in actuality, she is indeed waiting for him at the café. Angrily, Stéphane runs full speed into her door, injuring his forehead. Tired of waiting, Stéphanie returns home.

Stéphane finally decides that he's had enough and prepares to return to Mexico. Before leaving, Stéphane's mother (Miou-Miou) insists that he say goodbye to Stéphanie. In his attempt to do so, he becomes extremely crass as he makes sexual jokes and makes comments about her breasts being "friendly and unpretentious" (this is perhaps to seem more sexual like Guy). She insists he leave to catch his plane, though he instead jumps on her bed. Pleading for her to touch his hair, Stéphanie tells him she can't do that, and desperately asks why Stéphane chose her. He responds, muffled under the covers, "Because everyone else is boring, and because you're different... and you don't like me Stéphanie," with a final heartbroken crack in his voice. Stéphane then spots two items on the bedside: the boat with the forest inside of it and his one-second time machine. He falls asleep. As Stéphanie climbs to the top, observing the sleeping Stéphane, she touches his hair gently. Stéphane dreams of himself and Stéphanie riding on Golden the Pony Boy and sailing on the white boat, off into the ocean's horizon.


  • The dream sequence in which Stéphane's hands become giant was inspired by a recurring nightmare director Michel Gondry frequently had as a child. Gondry had previously incorporated aspects of this dream into the music video for the Foo Fighters' 1997 single "Everlong".
  • The film features a cover of the song "After Hours" with very different lyrics, titled "If You Rescue Me". The film's trailer features the original version by The Velvet Underground (from their eponymous third album). The trailer also features the songs "Fear of Sleep" by The Strokes and "Your Heart Is an Empty Room" by Death Cab for Cutie.
  • An exhibition of memorabilia, objects and sets associated with the film appeared at Deitch Projects in New York, Sept. 6-Sept. 30, 2006
  • Stéphane has the record sleeve "How Soon Is Now?" (by The Smiths) above his bed. This track is dedicated to the awkwardness of shyness and its inherent beauty.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Science of Sleep" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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