Waking Life

Waking Life

Waking Life is a film that never settles down. Or maybe it never wakes up. Regardless, Richard Linklater’s animated meditation seems to strike a perfect balance between the plotless meanderings of Slacker and the unquenchable knowledge-seeking of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. Any way you look at it, this is a weird, original movie. As he attempts to figure out what separates dreams from reality, the protagonist (Dazed and Confused’s Wiley Wiggins) hears an earful from everyone he
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3 thoughts on “Waking Life”

  1. Richard Linklater is one of the great independent directors working today. No matter what you think of his work, you cannot deny that he is an original voice. I don’t like all his movies, but I invariably look forward to trying out each new one. Waking Life is one of the good ones.

    To start with, its very existence is a sign of this man’s imagination. He films the whole thing and edits it into a feature. Now at this point, most directors would consider their film finished. But not Rick Linklater. No, now he gives it to Bob Sabiston at LineResearch to totally cover over with rotoscoping animation using Sabiston’s own software. So, basically, he’s made two films in one. And we’re the luckier for it.

    If you’ve seen Slacker, you’ll be familiar with the style. In that film, one scene blends into another through the use a minor character from one scene (often no more than a walk-on) becoming the focus of the next scene. Well, here the blend is not so logical. Several scenes appear to be dreams from which our hero (played by Wiley Wiggins from Dazed and Confused) awakens at the end. Only even his awakening appears to be part of the dream. Eventually, he realizes that he is not really waking up, and this begins to disturb him. (How to tell when you’re dreaming–and make the most of it–becomes the subject of one conversation.) But he continues to meet up with people, often trying to interrupt their monologues with his own questions about his problem. Until he finally runs into a guy playing pinball (Linklater) who tells him simply to “wake up.”

    But does he?

    Animating this film was the best idea Linklater had. Often one’s mind wanders during these characters’ monologues (several of them just aren’t that interesting), but the animation surrounding them keeps your interest. It not only saves the film, but makes it better. It transcends itself. Instead of becoming Slacker meets My Dinner with Andre, it turns into art–that rarest of creatures, cinematic art.

    Conversations that would be as dull as a dormitory-kitchen knife are enlivened. Concepts not understood become graspable through the use of illustrative drawings. Even the actors themselves (primarily amateurs including several professors from the University of Texas at Austin) are shown in a new light through the eyes of the animators. (One wonders what they thought of the animators’ taking license with their likenesses.) My favorites were the “human interaction” scene, the “holy moment” scene, the story told in the bark, and the above “pinball” scene, where Linklater tells the film’s most interesting story about Phillip K. Dick’s discovery after writing one of his novels.

    Have your own “holy moment” and immerse yourself in the dream world of Waking Life.

    (Note on the DVD: This baby is loaded. Making ofs, interviews, several commentaries, and a very compelling animated short film called “Snack and Drink” featuring an autistic boy. Very educational regarding the process of bringing this movie through its paces and very entertaining as well. Well worth the price.)

  2. Richard Linklater calls this a “movie about ideas,” and it is indeed unlike most movies. It has only the slightest semblance of a plot. The unnamed narrator, played by Wiley Wiggins, seems to be trapped in a neverending dream in which he encounters a whole series of characters who expound on ideas about existence, dreaming, identity, time, religion, society. It reminded me of conversations with peers in college, sitting in the hallway of a dormitory, in the middle of the night, our minds bursting with ideas, grappling with problems and not finding any solutions but enamored with the quest. Like that, except amplified. The ideas in Waking Life are not like, whoa, you know, the ramblings of a pot-smoking college flunkie, but actual thoughts from intriguing street philosophers like Speed Levitch, fictional characters like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters from Linklater’s Before Sunrise, artists like Steven Soderbergh, or academics like philosophy professor Robert Solomon.

    It’s a movie that would not have worked nearly as well as live action. The realism would detract from the intellectual dreaminess of the ideas. Linklater’s animation technique, which uses computers to paint on top of live digital video footage, is just right for this film. It is as close as I’ve ever seen to having visuals actually embody the ideas being expressed verbally by the characters. A new, exciting alternative to the documentary as a visual medium for ideas, and just as credible an approach as that of, say, David Lynch, for reproducing the sensation of dream. The animation awakens the reality just as the ideas in the film rouse your mind.

    Finally, it’s a movie that will inspire a polarized reaction. The person I saw the film with stood up halfway into the film and left, unable to stand it. The greatest films seem to inspire such reaction. I left the theater and stood on the sidewalk outside, thinking.

  3. `Waking Life’ uses creative animation techniques and a nearly plot-less conversational format to explore some of the deep philosophical questions of consciousness, dream, and reality. While this may sound heavy and boring, director Richard Linklater (`Slacker’) brings a surprisingly light touch to the project, and the result is a fascinating, thought provoking, and highly enjoyable film.
    I watched this movie twice in one week. I was alone the first time that I viewed it, and found myself hard-pressed to express either the density of the ideas presented, or just how entertaining that presentation was. So I rented it again, and sat down to watch it with my best friend. We put the remote between us, and then, every few minutes, one or the other of us would grab it, hit pause, and launch into a discussion of what we had just seen. It took us all evening to watch this hour and forty minute film this way, but the result of this exercise was both entertaining and mentally stimulating.
    Richard Linklater has a knack for making this type of fare. `Waking Life’ is similar in many ways to his debut film, `Slacker’, which shares its loose, conversational format and philosophical bent. `Waking Life’ is a much stronger, more focused and thoughtful film, however, and it is easy to see Linklater’s maturation as a film maker and thinker.
    If you simply want mindless entertainment, avoid this movie, it is definitely not for you. If, however, you enjoy films that are clever, innovative, and thought-provoking then `Waking Life’ very well might become one of your favorites.

    Theo Logos

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