Waking Life (Linklater, 2001)

January 28, 2009

Welcome to Philosophy 101 on acid. Alternating between headache-inducing nausea and poetic lyricism, Linklater’s Waking Life employs a unique visual style that takes on a lucid-dreamlike quality unlike anything I have ever seen before. According to the making-of feature on the DVD, the film was first shot using regular hand-held cameras which allowed for increased mobility and for a more documentary type feel. The footage was then edited before given to the animators who were then able to add another dimension through the technique of “rotoscoping” which basically involves tracing the image frame by frame. The animation looks almost hand-drawn but not in the traditional sense. It’s much more fluid whereas the images take on a certain painting-like quality mixed with a live-action comic book. Visually, the film is fascinating to look at with its attention to detail and hallucinatory imagery. The surrealistic animation effectively coincides with the protagonist’s state of mind who finds himself unable to distinguish between dreams and reality.

Polarizing to say the least, Waking Life can be a frustrating experience because of its meandering narrative, trippy visuals and excessive philosophical ramblings. The film can be a bit exhausting on the brain with its conceited philosophical discussions primarily revolving around the big “E” word. Split into several vignettes where the unnamed protagonist sets out on his journey of self-discovery, he meets a handful of different people who each raise their own questions regarding the great debates of human existence. Some discussions are more interesting than others and although never boring, it can be little overwhelming to absorb everything that is being articulated. Nevertheless, there’s something intimately profound about this film that asks the viewer examine their own life in regards to the different issues raised. The cover-art is quite deceiving in looking like a psychedelic comedy of sorts. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s more of an art-house film with a high-brow attitude that allows Linklater to spew forth all of his philosophical ideals of the universe.

Some may find it aggravating while others will find it to be quite rewarding. I find myself in the latter category. Waking Life emphasizes the significance of curiosity being an essential human quality to growing and it’s encouraging that Linklater provides a bombardment of fascinating questions and theories ladled with heavy connotations whilst bestowing no definitive answers. Everyone wants to find some sort of significant meaning in their life and what I found to be the most positive aspect of this film was its encouragement to step out of the box for a moment in order to rationally contemplate what it means to lead a fulfilling life.

8/10

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