The Science of Sleep is the 2006 film written and directed by Frenchman Michel Gondry, who was best known for the 2004 Academy Award-winning film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Gael Garcia Bernal, a Mexican actor best known for his roles in the Academy nominated films Amores Perros by Alejandro González Iñárritu (2000) and Y tu mama también by Alfonso Cuarón (2001), stars in the films main role of Stephane Miroux, a Mexican-French artist who relocated to France from Mexico after his father’s death.
In The Science of Sleep Gondry explores the cause of community isolation by juxtaposing it with the concept of solipsism then examines these concepts with the use of language— both verbal and visual. The verbal language causes disconnect and isolation while the visual language causes communication and an indirect understanding of one another through emotions.
Per the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, solipsism is the idea that all that exists is everything the “I” experiences; meaning, a solipsist attaches no meaning to the idea that there could be thoughts, experiences, and emotions other than their own. Per Scientific American writer Ester Hsieh, a recent study published in Personality and Individual Differences supports the perception that American society has steadily become more egocentric; meaning, individuals choose not to/or are unable to see a connection between others outside of themselves.
In the film, Miroux’s unhappiness with his job causes him to miss work which causes frustration for his coworker friend Guy— portrayed by French actor Alain Chabat—who also hates his job. Miroux’s disregard of Guy ultimately lets Guy create an anxiety within Miroux which causes him to believe his love interest, Stephanie— portrayed by British-French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg—is playing with his heart. In reality, she tries to reassure Miroux that she loves him but he can’t seem to believe that out of fear of rejection.
When all you think about is yourself, you won’t get to understand the true intentions of others and/or your decisions become based on subjectivity instead of objective reality. This form of thinking causes isolation because you do not know how to understand others besides yourself.
The film is recorded from the point of view of Stephan Miroux’s imaginative mind. The audience is privy to Miourx’s thoughts and thought process. As Miroux becomes more distressed about Stephanie, his dreams start to seep and bend into his reality. The visual blending of his worlds helps the audience be empathetic to Miroux’s awkward interactions with Stephanie.
Per linguistic scholar Elizabeth Rowley-Jolivet, “visualization and language…are both culturally embedded, both constitute a code of communication, and both are used to make claims”. The film uses three verbal languages: Spanish, English, and French (though English becomes the films primary language). By interweaving these languages, either in Miroux’s dream state or in his reality it creates an immediate sense of separation between Miroux and all those around him.
This separation is also felt in the fact that Miroux does not look like those around him even though the film viewers know Miroux is half French. This recalls the interview with Cuban writer Achy Obejas in which she stated that when it came to her personal experience with living for a long period in Cuba, that it feels like you belong but deep down you know you don’t belong.
Still, by having the whimsical Miroux be half Mexican and half French but having the actor portraying him be Mexican, it creates a visual connection that challenges viewers to see others and/or themselves differently; a disconnected connection in reality.
When Miroux first meets his next-door neighbor Stephanie he does not feel an initial connection with her even though they are able to verbally communicate and their names are each other’s counterparts. However, after choosing to spend time together Stephan and Stephanie build a connection through their vivid imaginations.
Though the film’s reality ends with Stephan falling asleep in Stephanie’s bed hours before he goes back to Mexico due to his heartbreak with Stephanie, the dream world shows Stephan and Stephanie happily together, hugging and smiling.
Visuals create an indirect understanding of one another through emotions. Having Garcia Bernal be the star of the film gives viewers the opportunity to see, possibly for the first time ever, a Mexican—accent and all—lead a non-Latino foreign film, which helps break the subjective idea of what or who a Mexican is, and who or what an actor of color is capable of portraying.
1. Gondry, Michel. The Science of Sleep.2006
3. Hsieh, Esther. Kids These Days Really Are More Egocentric. Scientific American Mind. 1
November 2014. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kids-these- days-really-
4. Rowley-Jovlivet, Elizabeth. Image as Text, Aspects of the shared visual language of
scientific conference participants. ASP 27-20. 2000.
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kids-these- days-really- are-more-
5. Obejas, Achy. Interview on April 11, 2018. Columbia College Chicago. US Latinx Literature, Spring 2018.