A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this arty French film consists mostly of fanciful/dream-like scenes that can seem nonsensical and lack a clear narrative drive. (In other words, kids won't be clamoring to see it.) There's some slapstick violence (falls and fisticuffs with enlarged hands), and Stéphane draws "disaster" images for the calendar company where he works (which also produces calendars featuring naked women). The movie includes brief shots of Stéphane naked in a bathtub and emerging to don a robe. But his desire for Stéphanie is rendered metaphorically, in dreamy images of heroic feats and horseback riding. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink at a party. Some profanity.
What's the story?
Following the loss of his father to cancer, Stéphane (Gael García Bernal) travels from Mexico to Paris, where he intends to sort through his family's old apartment. This rummaging brings back memories of his childhood, memories that Stéphane tends to arrange in his head in his own way (including remembering conversations with his parents on a TV talk show set made of cardboard). Stéphane is perpetually "creative": When his mother, Miou-Miou (Christine Miroux) arranges a job at a company that makes naked-girl calendars, Stéphane arrives with his own designs for a 12-month cycle -- a series of drawings of disasters. Stéphane's own disaster in the making concerns his crush on new neighbor Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is also artistically inclined. She's repeatedly put off by Stéphane's incoherent action due to his difficulty in differentiating between his dreams and his waking life.
Is it any good?
THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP doesn't tell a story so much as it unravels. A journey through a young man's dreams and desires, it's at once lyrical, strange, and resistant to interpretation. While this untraditional structure will frustrate some viewers, it's also enchanting and challenging, a movie that takes a mature, complex perspective on childish behavior and the culture that encourages it.
Written and directed by the ever-inventive Michel Gondry, The Science of Sleep offers up a protagonist who resists conventional identification. But if the character of Stéphane is disquieting, the movie's exploration of his individual psyche is endlessly fascinating. The fact that the story doesn't come together in a pat resolution, but rather opens out into more possibilities -- romantic, scary, and new -- only makes it more adventurous.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the nature of dreams. What do dreams "mean"? Is it possible to interpret them definitively? How do they convey unconscious or submerged desires and fears? Why don't we remember more of our dreams? How does Stéphane "act out" his anxieties in his dreams?