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Waking Life (2001)


Detour Film Production - Independent Film Channel - Line Research - Thousand Words, 2001Runtime: 100 minutesRated R
Animated, featuring the voices of Wiley Wiggins, J.C. Shakespeare, Bill Wise, Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, David Sosa, John Christensen, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Tiana Hux, Speed Levitch, Guy Forsyth
Written and Directed by Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" is a film for the open-minded. It challenges the viewer by posing questions about life and the difference between dreams and reality. It offers theories, but no answers. It doesn't attempt to do what it knows it can't, rather it makes us do the thinking, therefore achieving the ability to stay in our minds for long periods of time. I watched "Waking Life" four times, each time enjoying the experience more. It is not only a stunning visual experience, but an experience for the mind as well.

Wiley Wiggins plays the main character, who is never given a name. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists his name as "Main Character," but in the film he is known as "the dreamer." The film revolves around the dreamer, who is trapped in a dream from which he cannot escape. In this particular dream, the dreamer wanders around talking to, or, more accurately, being talked to by a series of people who elaborate on a vast number of things. They speak about the origin of language, the existence or nonexistence of free will, and the difference or lack of difference between our waking lives and our dreams.

The first time I saw "Waking Life," I liked it, but I felt it moved too slow for me to be very interested in it. But the film stayed in my mind, and so I watched it again. This time I became much more fascinated by the questions and ideas presented by the characters. I watched it twice more afterwards, just to watch it again, just to have that experience again, to hear the intelligent and elaborate dialogue waft through my head again. It is one of those experiences that one can enjoy over and over again just as much as, perhaps even more than any of the previous times.

To make my review complete, I have to describe some of the lectures, stories, and ravings that Linklater features in his film. One man debates with himself over the existence of free will, questioning whether we make our own choices or whether our decisions are governed by probabilities or basic fundamental laws of science. An old man speaks of a "new evolutionary paradigm" and creating a "neo-human." Another man rants in a prison cell about how he will torture those who put him there the day he gets out. A long-haired man in a leather jacket gives the dreamer some tips on how to figure out whether or not you're dreaming. A few people argue that our waking lives are as real as our dreams, and for all we really know we could be sleepwalking through our waking lives or wake-walking through our dreams. We visit Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, reappearing from Linklater's 1995 film "Before Sunrise." We are also treated to some very interesting and thought-provoking speeches, conversations, and stories from Tiana Hux, Speed Levitch, Guy Forsyth, and many more, including Linklater himself.

"Waking Life" was filmed by Linklater, then animated frame-by-frame from the film using simple Desktop Macs. The fact that it was filmed and then animated gives it a certain kind of fluid quality. It captures life's unpredictable, spontaneous moments with totally vibrant animation, giving it a lively quality that could not be achieved otherwise. The animation also allows the animator to add images to the film that reflect what the person on screen is talking about. Rather than just having these characters talk, Linklater adds images make the conversations jump right off the screen and into the viewer's psyche.

I really can't recommend this film enough, especially if you've ever pondered questions like the ones presented here. Like Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" (1957), "Waking Life" ponders the important questions about life. It doesn't give us the answers because the answers aren't there. Why make a film that asks questions without answers? To make us think. Why else?

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