Michel Gondry is the writer and director of The Science of Sleep. Sleep (released in 2006*) attempts to reveal the workings of the mind as it reconciles inward, emotional expectations with outward, somatic truths**.
Gondry seems to be fascinated with the mind and how its rational workings try to cope with its emotional foundation. In his films, like The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Gondry tasks himself with showing thoughts and feelings. He has to create a visual language to describe what takes place in a pre-visual state of our consciousness.
Still from "The Science of Sleep," by Michel Gondry
Showing emotion is more than showing a smile or a frown. It’s more subtle than a tilted head and a distant gaze. Those are indicators of a state, not the state itself. Gondry’s visual language, the images that he uses to showfeelings is a language that manipulates scale, color, light and texture. These are the tools that he uses to alter an image and shift it from the real world, from what we expect to see, to something different, something that reflects the fuzzy nature of our thoughts and mind.
For example, in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the protagonist, a grown man, is reduced to the size of a child and placed in a world that is strange in its scale, but familiar in its context in order to reveal elements of his insecurity and fear.
In both films, Sunshine and Sleep, the fantasy worlds are painted in a pallet of desaturated colors, with carefully selected highlights and contrast. Gondry’s fantasy pallets are are clearly distinct from the rest of the narrative and indicative of a shift in perspective and occur with regular thematic repetition; for example, the fantasy worlds of Sleep rely heavily on blues and whites.
The addition of contextual texture shifts is also an important tool in his language of visual queues that describe emotions and inward reckoning. In Sunshine, there is a use and reuse of irregular line, such as in striated ice and linear, sea-side landscapes. In Sleep it is the repetition of irregular surfaces, such as crumpled paper and cellophane, and coarsely knitted fabric. These queues represent a change in the psychological landscape of his characters, from state-to-state, from outward-to-inward, from controlled-to-free.
Gondry’s characters are often frantic, almost manic, in their interactions with others; their subtlety comes from their interactions with self. This contrast is what highlights all other changes. And though words like frantic and manic sound like emotional states, they are also visual.
In comics, stories are told in static representations of motion, scale, (sometimes) color and (always) light and texture. Like Gondry, comics artists must develop a language of visual queues that represent emotion, inward and outward displays that carry a narrative on multiple levels.
As a comics artist, I find Gondry’s creativity inspiring. His work is not limited to traditional constraints of film. Watching Michel Gondry’s work reminds me of early cinematic works, like Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête. Cocteau didn’t have any rules, or many models to follow, instead he invented his own story-telling techniques. Gondry’s work reminds me that fifty-years of film making doesn’t have to result in stale and stagnant film. Even though much of it is, and even though the same can be said about comics, it is still inspiring.
* I’m a little slow to move through my Netflix queue.
** This sentence almost resulted in a tangent about Proust, but three references to French artists would be too much.