Do you sometimes have trouble deciphering whether you’re dreaming or awake? Like in ‘The Science of Sleep'?
Ok, I just got an annoying thought which has nothing to do with where I was going with that, it’s about annoying English translations of French film titles. WHY would they name ‘La Science des Rêves’, which means ‘The Science of Dreams’, (ie, what the whole film is about), ‘The Science of Sleep’? For the sake of alliteration? It irritates the pants off me. I just don’t understand why they don’t leave the beauty alone. It reminds me of a film a while back about the sexual awakening of two teenage sisters, one who was pretty, one who was overweight. It was called ‘À ma soeur’, which translates as ‘To my sister’ - a lovely, appropriate name. Translation? ‘Fat Girl.’ Who are these people?
Anyway, in 'The Science of Sleep' our heavenly hero Gael Garcia Bernal, (who, as established over gnocchi and granita at Pellegrini’s the other night, is my One Free Pass), keeps getting confused between reality and dreams, leading him to get all messy in his budding relationship with Charlotte Gainsbourg (The Love’s Free Pass). It’s so weird and funny and wrong. Michel Gondry is a freak and a genius. He’s my Free Pass #2 I just decided, though I’ll have to verify that with The Love. He shot the film in a real Paris apartment block, a tiny old squishy one with a squishy staircase. Can you imagine that? The acting is off the planet. GGB is outstanding. Any man who can deliver the lines ‘I like your boobs. They’re unpretentious.” with pure conviction is a true great as far as I'm concerned. The film is cinematic risk after risk. It moves me.
There’s this great scene where GGB is running down the canal to meet the lovely Charlotte because the divine, pervy Alain Chabat with his beanie on in the dark room said ‘Ok, you can go. Mais si tu la BAISE pas!!...’ which means ‘but if you don’t FUCK her!’ and the subtitle infuriatingly reads ‘If you don’t KISS her’ – rrr - anyway he’s running down the canal but he runs into this scary man from his dreams who is actually his boss dressed as a homeless bum and the boss/dream-man tells him Charlotte’s not there and he runs away and goes to her apartment and tries to break down her door and bangs his head and leaves blood on it. He is crying his eyes out because she didn’t come. But she was sitting there in the café all along. Oh Gael.
I feel so sorry for him and sad that his dream has thwarted him. I’ve never really had as strong blurs as that between dreams and reality, except when I’ve been really tired, like for example when I used to work in this art gallery during the day and also at a bar all night because I was saving to go to Europe and I was so tired during the day that the lovely big gay man I worked with in the gallery would look like a big warm walking pillow and when he bent over to write up a docket his back looked like a warm junior bed and I would stretch myself over it and go to sleep.
Apart from that I just sometimes suspect that my whole life is one long dream and that when I reach the end of it I’ll realise it all took place in the space of five minutes. But that’s effectively just the same as reality anyway, isn’t it. We probably die and get to the big gates and the dude goes, ‘Ah-ha! Now you’re awake!’ And you go – wow – that was a long, intense dream. I got born and grew up and got married and had kids… And he interrupts and goes, ‘Yeah, everyone says the same thing. And to be honest, hearing about people’s dreams is boring.’ And you go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right.’ And he goes, ‘Welcome to reality.’ And that's of course when you enter the Chocolate Room from Willie Wonka.
Either that or what we’re living in is reality. And if that’s true, then my subconscious definitely comes up from time to time to test the waters and make sure I know that I’m definitely awake. She is evil that Subconscious. She’s naughty. She’s destructive. And awfully, terribly embarrassing.
I can usually suppress her, like when she comes when I’m on stage performing a very serious monologue like the Messenger from the Bacchae telling of how Pentheus got mauled to bits by all the bacchant women for example. Just at the most serious moment she comes and tries to get me to pull my pants down. Or other things that are just too wrong to mention. Sometimes she dares me to drive off a bridge or into oncoming traffic or to stand and say FUCK at a family luncheon or at a work meeting. She often wants me to get up in a movie cinema and run to the screen and hit it with my hand and then just turn around and stand there. Or to slide my body over the rail of a dress circle and flop onto the opera crowd below - soft. Or to drop a match and see if the pub carpet sets on fire. Stuff like that. I have always managed to keep The Mistress at bay in these moments. But there are few moments I can remember when she has won through.
The moments are extremely embarrassing and it’s only now in my life that I am able to view them with a sense of fascination, rather than complete and utter horror. They’re often sharp, tourettes-like outbursts, smashing of objects, things like that. They make me feel terrible and I wish just so badly over and over that they’d never happened, while underneath feeling a curious sense of satisfaction. Proof that I am, in fact, awake.
The first incident I can remember was in Primary School. It was Grade Four School Photos. I was a phase of my existence where I liked to pretend I was from different countries. A new girl from England had inspired a bout of Pommishness and I would scale the fence alone, day after day, practising my lines.
Life was deep in Grade Four. I felt a strong need to test the boundaries of my existence and challenge the constraints around me. I wanted to see if I could be Nothing. I couldn’t sleep and didn’t eat and rejoiced in the pinching feeling of starvation and the skeletal, jutting outline of myself. It was comforting feeling those very definite lines around my being. I loved refusing social things, especially food, it gave me clarity and independence and got me a lot of attention. It drove my mother insane. I grew my hair right down my back and didn't wash and wore boys’ clothes. It all felt great.
On School Photo Day, for some reason the photographer chose me to sit centre-front. I never got chosen for centre-front, I was always too tall. And ugly. But there I was, centre stage, and I could feel the lights on me. I felt surreal. A weird feeling rose in me.
And I did something bizarre. As the photographer called ‘Cheese!’ I tilted my head to the side, snarled, and… stuck my thumb up. I know it seems like nothing, but it was such a lame, odd, unsure gesture, that made it even weirder. If I’d have stuck up my middle finger, or done the Heavy Metal Devil's Horns, that would have been a clear protest. But this was… well, it was just… I don’t even know the word.
“Ahem,” said the photographer. “Could the one in the front row please put her thumb down?” A wave of giggles. I put the thumb down. But then, when the photographer took the second shot, up it came again. It was out of my control. I had to do it. There was a serious compulsion behind it. I didn’t understand it then and I couldn’t understand it for years as I would desperately try to remove it from the photo album and destroy it. But Mum was there to intercept the mission every time. She would smile, arms folded, and close the album, placing it with careful precision back in its evil hideaway. Maybe she understood the significance of The Act. She seemed to find it funny. Everyone did. But I was mortified.
Why do I have to be such a dick? I wondered to myself.
But when I look back on it, maybe I was testing something.
The results were certainly definitive. The picture was real as real. The evidence was in the dining room cabinet. I was alive. I wasn’t dreaming.
Another time, years and years later I was sitting in a café on the Rue de Rivoli with my friend Nicko drinking a lovely Bourgogne on a sunny spring afternoon. We had been for a long bike ride around Paris and were happily tuckered out. There was a woman sitting at the table next to us, talking very seriously to a man. The woman was wearing a white shirt. Suddenly my red wine was all down it.
She turned to me with shock. I had no idea how I’d managed to flick the drink so far and I burst into laughter. So did Nicko. It was very weird. I hadn’t been knocked, and I wasn’t even gesticulating, the glass in my hand just seemed to toss the wine all the way over to her of its own volition.
I couldn’t explain it. When the woman returned from the bathroom, furious, I apologised profusely.
“But you laughed,” she said.
“I know,” I agreed, “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t laughing at you, I was just shocked. I have no idea how that happened. I’ll give you some money for dry-cleaning.”
She dismissed me with an angry hand gesture and went back to her meal.Nicko looked at me with wide eyes. I shrugged. I had absolutely no idea why or how that had happened. All I could fathom was that perhaps it was just Strange. Random things occur sometimes. You can't always understand what's lurking beneath. Even when it’s you driving.