Science of Sleep by Michel Gondry

The Science of Sleep” is a playful romantic fantasy set inside the topsy-turvy brain of Stephane Miroux (Gael Garca Bernal), an eccentric youngster whose dreams constantly invade his waking life.

While slumbering, he is the charismatic host of Stephane TV, expounding on The Science of Sleep in front of cardboard cameras. In real life, he has a boring job at a Parisian calendar publisher and pines for Stephanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the girl in the apartment across the hall. While Stephanie is initially charmed by Stephane, she is confused by his childishness and shaky connection to reality. Stephanes co-worker, Guy (Alain Chabat) a vulgar but practical man, offers advice on the opposite sex, but Stephane is too far in the clouds to listen. Unable to find the secret to Stephanies heart while awake, Stephane searches for the answer in his dreams.

Written and directed by Michel Gondry, the creator of Oscar-winning films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), videos and commercials. Science of Sleep is a whimsical trip into a wonderland fashioned from cardboard tubes, cellophane, and imagination.

First feature from Gondry's script

I dont think I had the confidence to write yet. But as I went along and did more work, I realized I had things to say and wanted to go deeper into expressing my own voice. Id always been expressing my voice alongside somebody elses, and felt the need to put more of myself out there.

With the videos, most people never really understood what I wanted to do until they gave me a chance to do them. And then afterwards, they generally liked it, and I really had a good amount of freedom. But in film it was different; its a much heavier medium and I needed to justify everything.

One of the reasons I wanted to do Science of Sleep was not to have to question my ideas on an intellectual level. When I work with other people, I have to use words. Its more limiting to the process to have to convey my ideas that way. If you want to create something, hoping it will go beyond yourself, you cant question every step of the process. It may seem contradictory, but the fact that Im the only one to make the decisions allows me to have less control of things. I want my instinct to be more in control and my intellect to be less in control, allowing me to have ideas, images, and concepts without having to justify why.

Autobiographical film

The movie was shot in the same building I lived in Paris while I was working a boring job in a calendar company. I drew a lot from my own experiences. Even if I go in a lot of different directions, Stephane is obviously a certain perspective of myself. But not just Stephane, I am in other characters as well.

Character inspired by Gondry

Its a midpoint between my idea of the characterobviously myselfand who Gael is. I think if you dont do that, its going to be a little fake. He has to think all the time that he has to add this layer. To me, the magic of making films is creating something new by combining different personalities. Its really important for me that I take a lot from the personality of the actor. To me, its very important to let people be free.

Images in Film Vs. Music videos

This story has been marinating in my brain for a long time. Maybe in the videos I was already using stuff I wanted to use in my film. I think that even if I didnt try those images before I still would have used them in the same way. Its all part of me.

Stephane's creative gifts

I think many artists spend a lot of time developing their skills to compensate for their inability to reach out. You want to make an object that is an intermediary between you and someone else, instead of directly talking to them. You want people to take notice of you, and ultimately, you want to find a girlfriend.

Basically, when these artists are out in the world trying to find a mate, also out there are the people who didnt waste their time being artists. So they are out on the market, getting all the girls before you. Its what happened to Stephane.

He makes these great things for Stephanie. But hes so into his own world that when he tries to be with her it doesnt work. She has a down-to-earth quality that makes his neurosis a little scary for her. You can see their difference when he says that the glasses allow you to see real life in 3D, and she says, Life is in 3D already. Shes more aware of whats out there, and hes more inside, more oblivious.

Charlotte Gainsbourg

Charlotte had a controversial upbringing as the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. One could say that in her life she was the opposite of Stephane, a childs body with a womans mind. She was born into the world too early in some ways. Her mind was mature but her body seemed to be behind her. I think its probably part of why I was drawn to Charlotte for this character. But theres a childlike quality to her too. She still has the same genuineness. She seems transparent and not really trying. There are very few actors who can convey thatto just be in the moment without having to put on an act or a face. Shes very receptive to whats happening around her.

What's dream and what's reality

Sometimes it might not be clear in the film but I always knew because most of the dreams in the film were ones I had myself. There is one thing that might seem confusing but I knew when I was doing it. Sometimes in real life theres a little bit of dream life. Like when they throw the cotton and it sticks on the ceiling like a cloud. Its a moment they share. They both pretend they see the same thing. And we are where we feel what they are feeling. Thats why we see it too. Its reality at that moment.

Stephane TV

“Stephane TV” is like the tollbooth that Stephane goes through in his travels from dream to reality and back. I had this idea for a long time and I thought it was a nice way to bring people into his head. In your dreams, your eyes dont see whats going on in front of you so I put in the window and the curtain in the back. Thats inside his head, going deeper into his dream. I used blue screen here. And its kind of humorous because the blue screen is something very technical, very mundane. Its not magical at all. Its comic for me that you can create your own world with a blue screen and some buttons. I thought it was a nice way to go from one world to another.


Some effects are technologically astounding, while other look like an idea a clever child might have come up with. Im aware of both sides. Im aware that sometimes people can be really amazed by the precision of the technology, but on the other hand, I like it to be nave, handmade and crafted. Its a combination. But its hard to maintain that in a film. There are so many people involved and everybody tends to polish everything.

There are a lot of things we see in animation where its so perfect you cant see the difference compared to CGI. Its so detailed and perfect. When people try to be too good its detrimental to the spontaneity. Im a very good animator, and when you look at some of the backgrounds in The Science of Sleep, theyre really detailed–but theres an intentional clumsiness to the way theyre conceived. I wanted to be sure we preserved this handmade quality in the movie.

Animation process

Five years ago, I bought my Aunts house in the mountains. At one time there was a sawmill there. All the equipment was gone; it was just a bare warehouse. Its pretty small, but we transformed it into a mini-factory for animation.

We shot all the animation for Science of Sleep with a crew of about ten people over the course of two months. We got a lot out of those two months it cost nearly the equivalent of adding a week to the budget if we had the full cast and crew working, which is still quite a lot of money but the effort was worth it. We created the dream world before we began shooting the film, before the story was fully completed. During the shooting, I had to work around the dreams, rather than the other way around. It made the film more interesting, because it wasnt done in the typical way where the dreams follow the arc of the story.

Actors Vs. animation

Its very important to me that the actors see the animation. When we used the blue-screen in Stephane TV, we did it live, so you could always see what was going on in the TV monitor.

Most of the time, I use back projection, which is a very old technique. Its very difficult to do, but it gives a good vibe on the set. Oh look what we did in my country house animating toilet paper rolls! We did a city and everything is moving!

The actors are like kids watching something they enjoy. It gets everybody on the right tone. I think movies that have blue screen always seems a little dead to me. You can see that theyve been shot on a separate element, and then matched together

When Gael flies, we used this big tank, and he swims in front of a back projection screen. I dont think many people would conceive an effect like that now. Theyd probably use blue-screen or wire work. It was very complicated to do it this way, but it gives it a grace. Flying has been done so many times in the moviesyou need to find a different way to do it.

Stephane's crudeness

Hes just lashing out. But we see before that he likes to say inappropriate things at the wrong time. Its like a contradiction with his shyness. Like Tourettes Syndrome. I think Stephane has a bit of that, this thing that he cant stop himself saying something stupid. It comes out full-blown at the end. Its his madness.

Maybe unconsciously or consciously, I pushed this side a little further because I was afraid people would not understand why a girl like Charlotte would not be attracted to a guy like Gael. One of the reasons is hes a little insane. I think insanity is unattractive. Being down-to-earth is a more attractive quality for women.

People caught between different worlds

I remember I was fascinated when I was a kid, because I lived on the edge between the forest and the city. I was very intrigued by the transition between one world and the other. When you go into another world, you feel like youre on another planet and maybe something unexpected is going to happen any second. When you walk into Stephanes dream, he is in reality but in his world seems on an alternative level. You dont understand that. So maybe its why I like it.

Recurring Motifs

In my films there are things that turn up in an unexpected context, like the forest in the boat or the bathtub in the office in this film, and the bed on the beach in Eternal Sunshine. Maybe its an influence from the surrealists or some other artists, but I think when you dream you have a lot of misplacement of things.

Your brain is usually in a passive world thats coherent. But when your brain sees something that doesnt match, where there is incongruity, it has to work very hard to reconstruct everything. Because its not something youre used to seeing, it makes you question your reality. Its a very creative moment.

In your dream there are a lot of fantasies in your head and the brain recreates the continuity. So the bed out in the beach in the snow in Eternal Sunshine contributes to that state of mind where everythings not normal. And this is something that I like to do.

Is there Science of Sleep

I totally believe that. What I dont believe is the mythology and the symbolism of dreams. I dont see why everybody should have the same associations. I think every one of has can have their own associations. Maybe there are general associations, but the idea that you can have a dream about a snake and then pick a dictionary for an explanation doesnt make sense to me.

I think its much more simple. Youve got to explore your memory. Youre going to see that youve been in contact with a snake in a context that was recalled in your dream. its much more interesting to me this way. I feel like Im looking at the map of my head and its everything Ive experienced since I was born. Its all inside there. So every day, I dive into a big sea of all the events of my life. Its just amazing.

Its good to think of dreams in these terms. Im happy to remember a dream and see maybe whats on my mind. But I dont think it really tells me who I amits just an exploration. It doesnt give me an answer like going to see an astrologist to be reassured: Youre going to be fine or, Youre going to meet somebody. Its more personal. I think science is more fun than mythology. People like things like astrology so that they can believe in an invisible world. But there are a lot of invisible worlds in science too. Who has seen a proton