director: Richard Linklater
starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Lorelei Linklater
running time: 97 mins
“Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming is dead, no one does it anymore. It’s not dead, it’s just that it’s been forgotten.”Man on the Train
Less like watching a film, and more like eavesdropping on a selection of philosophical conversations, Waking Life is a mind-blowing piece of pop-art cartooning, both provocative and inspirational. In this groundbreaking film, Linklater plays with the notions of dreaming, conceptually and visually, in what becomes a form of lucid dream (where the dreamer knows they are dreaming and are thus able to control some aspects of the dream without waking from it). Using new animation styles to reflect this, he has crafted something unique in both content and style.
The central character is a teenage boy [Wiley Wiggins] who is never named. We see him meandering aimlessly through a dream he is unable to wake up from, meeting a series of characters who engage him in amateur philosophical discussion, or simply rant in frantic, and occassionally profound, monlogues. He is often very detatched from the proceedings, seeming as much an observer as the audience themselves.
While playing with deep concepts, the film itself remains vibrantly alive, partly through the bright animation palette, but also through its quirky characters. While they are of hugely varied ages, they all come across like students in their passionate attempts to vocalise their ideas, beliefs and viewpoints. Indeed, perhaps the aim of Waking Life, at least in part, is to stir up such passion in its viewers, since it seems to have left the modern world outside of universities. Rarely does a film seem so passionate about its own ideas.
The animation style may at first seem like a poor gimmick with a varied quality of appearance. However, the results match the Waking Life‘s core perfectly, lending fluidity and intensity as an extension of the film’s own notions. It resembles reality, yet also breaks its boundaries with freely-floating elements laid over a backdrop. There is a constant state of flux about the universe presented, something is always changing, growing. The technique utilised is to shoot the entire film live-action and then overlay computer-aided inking in an almost watercolour style. The result is animation that is sometimes super-realistic and others utterly surreal. The variety of styles (over 30 animators were involved, sometimes working on different shots in a single scene) represents the freedom of this dream state, while the most intriguing result of this animation technique is actually the incredible realism of the motion. Watching the subtle manerisms of the speakers perfectly portrayed by a cartoon is intriguing.
The abstract intellectual concepts come thick and fast, and on the first watching it is only possible to engage with half the dialogue. Not all of this dialogue is actual as deeply meaningful as might first appear, much as with those who consistantly spout philosophical arguements in the real world. It is for the viewer to extract the useful ideas from the barrage of concepts displayed in the film. The discussions on the dream state are easier to follow, since the structure of the film seems to follow the boy’s discovery of his own lucid dream state. One of the film’s best moments is as he flicks a light switch while leaving a room in which he has just been told the easiest way to tell if he is dreaming is that he will find himself unable to turn lights on and off. When he hits the switch, of course, nothing happens.
There is an irritating disjointedness to the proceedings, not enough to seriously mar the quality of the film, but means its intriguing concepts are not always delivered in a logical fashion. However, it will undoubtedly be remembered for its unique visual style rather than its content, and in this it is undoubtedly a huge achievement.