Waking LifeThursday 25 Apr 2002
Directed by Richard Linklater, starring Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
From the director of cult slacker movie 'Dazed and Confused' comes a film that will probably have that very effect on you, in between pondering its meaning. Not a conventional film in the narrative sense, it marries revolutionary animation and a heavy script that is somewhere between a series of brain workouts and pretentious film-school meanderings.
Originally shot as live action, a troupe of artists painted and graphically manipulated each frame to give an impressionistic hue. Backgrounds hover and merge, styles differ from scene to scene and for the most part, it's an aesthetically invigorating experience. However, some scenes are shot in the animated equivalent of the Blair Witch school of shaky filmmaking and are not easy on the eye.
We follow an unnamed character (represented on screen by Wiley Wiggins) through a series of timeless, unstructured events. Having been knocked down (or has he?), he is propelled on a journey to explore the notions of existence, time and dreaming. Are we all really in a waking state or do we only dare to exercise our full potential in our dreams? In a series of episodic encounters, the protagonist speaks to scientists and philosophers, dreamers and stoners to try and assess if he is dreaming, in a waking state or in the afterlife. The film aims to challenge our perception of our lives and the make us address our development as people.
If you examine the thinking behind your average Hollywood blockbuster, 'Waking Life', in comparison, seems to have loftier message. While many portions make you think and may even make you aspire to achieving more, there is not much appeal in the film itself. There is a paper-thin narrative involving too many characters pontificating about everything from molecular activity to Kirkgaaerd. While striving for intellectual debate, it comes across as an unrelated series of pompous philosophy lectures that veer between dull and fascinating. Its focus on collective memory and discourse at the expense of personal experience make it a very cold film. A rather clever marketing ploy naming Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke as main cast members is used, when in fact, they appear for 5 minutes as a couple-having-intellectual-debate.
The film's appeal is largely the almost hallucinogenic animation. It makes some profound points but throughout much of 'Waking Life', it’s hard to stay awake.