If you’re the type of person who enjoys having endless philosophical and intellectual conversations about life, Waking Life is a pleasant reminder that you are not alone. Considering that life has existed for billions of years, and that human evolution comprises only a fraction of that time, Waking Life is a special treat to those who value asking questions even when so many answers may never be found.
- Writer/ Director: Richard Linklater
- Cast: Wiley Wiggins
A young man (Wiley Wiggins) goes around town engaging in one inquisitive conversation after another. What we observe is not so much a plot driven journey, but a sort of spiritual exploration with human existence as its focus.
There’s a scene in Waking Life in which a young man is writing a novel. When asked to describe the story he’s writing, he is quick to point out that there is no real story. Instead, he describes his novel as being merely about “people, gestures, moments, bits of rapture, fleeting emotions.” In a sense, this description would fairly describe Waking Life. There are two things that make this a noteworthy film. First, the technology that went into making this film. Instantly, our eyes notice an unfamiliar style of animation created by rotoscope, a process in which animators trace and color each frame after it has already digitally shot live action.
Although the animation style represents a considerable achievement of labor, the most compelling aspect of Waking Life lies in its subject matter. As Linklater’s career has shown with previous films, he seems to be just as interested in exploring ideas as he is in telling a cohesive story. Considering the “slacker” style that made him famous in 1991, and one that he sophisticated with Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, Linklater returns to a loose narrative structure. In Waking Life, Willy Wiggins wanders around while engaging in a series of intellectual conversation about existentialism, dreams, and many other considerations about life. While the conversations are intellectually stimulating, they manage to avoid sounding pretentious or dogmatic. Throughout the film, it occurred to me that this would make a good double feature companion with My Dinner with Andre.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Ebert hits the mark by describing Waking Life as vibrating with urgency and excitement. He states, “The movie is like a cold shower of bracing, clarifying ideas. We feel cleansed of boredom, indifference, futility and the deadening tyranny of the mundane.” While a full appreciation of its style may only be possible given our understanding of the rotoscoping process, anyone who cares to contemplate the purpose of human existence will find this film invigorating. As Ebert reminds us, “when we were students we often spoke like this, but in adult life, it is hard to find intelligent conversation.” The beauty of Waking Life is that it doesn’t feel like a cold script written about conversations between minds. Instead, as Ebert also points out, it feels natural, like eavesdropping. And, more than just playing out as though it were championing the curious nature of the human mind, it does this in a way that feels optimistic and inspiring.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GREAT
Do you like Waking Life? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: La Ceremonie
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life this week, he now has 341 under his belt and less than 30 films left to go.