Branching out on his own for the first time after his two-feature partnership with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, writer-director Michel Gondry might have been sensible to depart from Kaufman-esque head-trips and strike out into entirely new territory. Fortunately, however, "sensible" doesn't apply to his loopy third narrative film. The Science Of Sleep plays out like an indie version of Gondry's Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, albeit with none of the star power, a quarter of the budget, half the angst, and twice the charm. Like its predecessor, Science Of Sleep largely lives inside a fevered imagination, but where Eternal Sunshine required a technological interface between external and internal worlds, Science makes the crossing organically via a character who blurs the border between them to a pleasant fuzz.
After his father's death, Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También) moves to France, where his mother has promised him an apartment and a job that will channel his artistic talent. The latter turns out to be stultifying cut-and-paste work on cheap calendars, but the former finds him a possible soulmate in next-door neighbor Charlotte Gainsbourg. Stymied by the challenges of the real world, Bernal frequently drops into fantasies where simple stop-motion and cobbled-together cardboard sets lend a sweet, ramshackle innocence to his escapism. Buoyed by Gainsbourg's participation in his flights of fancy, Bernal becomes attached to her, and sometimes it's them against the mundane world. But she doesn't always appreciate his childishness and unpredictability, and he can't decide whether he wants to venture far enough into the real world to meet her halfway.
Ultimately, The Science Of Sleep is about the dividing line between whimsy and simple immaturity. In his dreams, Bernal takes over his office, becomes a successful artist, and flies above the city, which bows down before him; in real life, his frustrated minor ambitions make him petulant, and his fantasy outlet makes him creepy and indecisive, since reality never measures up to the inside of his head. Still, a fantasist like Gondry could hardly claim that people must sacrifice their dreams to grow up. The Science Of Sleep just examines why and how they might find a balance that will let them live with others.