You watch movies. A lot of movies. Some good, some not so good. Once in a while, you see one and you’re like, whoa, now this is something else. Something else good, something else bad, it doesn’t even matter, this ain’t the point. Some movies, whether they succeed at it or not, aim to be more, to be different, and you have to applaud that. Which brings us to “Waking Life”, a film so content-heavy and talkative that I’m sure many people will have a hard time keeping up with it. But whether that’s your case or, like me, you find it riveting and thought-provoking, in any case you have to appreciate its sheer originality. One of the most visually stimulating movies I’ve ever seen, Richard Linklater’s unique animated film is like a philosophical “Fantasia”, an overwhelming collection of thoughts and ideas about reality, life, love, death and dreams communicated through a stunning blend of live action and animation.
In the making of the film, Linklater embarked on an amazing journey through the world of ideas, ideas in the broadest sense. Not plot points, not character traits, just ideas. About the meaning of life, about what came before and what will come after, about what is real and what isn’t, whether dreams are that different from our waking life, about what is it to be human, about evolution, and spirituality. Ideas. And it’s not just oooh, Linklater’s big self-indulgent mess of ideas. While the film is clearly his baby, it’s also a very communal affair. Linklater went out to various people around him, actors, teachers, friends, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, whoever had something interesting to say. Out of all he heard, through his own sensibilities and the writings of various thinkers from Plato to Philip K. Dick, he wrote a script somehow. I don’t know, but I would think said script to be quite different from the actual movie, for I’m pretty sure the give-and-take continued through filming with the actors.
Speaking of which, this is one of the very particular things about the film. This is not animated like a Disney cartoon or a CGI flick. Linklater actually shot live actors in real locations, and then he had a team of artists paint over the frames of film. It gives everything a surreal feel, like you’re watching paintings coming alive, it’s like something out of… A dream, really. Nothing remains still, buildings seem to be breathing, outlines are loosened, colors flicker. There’s no way I can do justice with words to the film’s beauty. You could turn the sound off and just revel in its impressionistic images; this is an art film if I’ve ever seen one.
But then again, don’t you dare turn off the sound! The discussions that drive the film are as engrossing as the visuals. As stated, there is little plot, if for a “protagonist” (played by Wiley Wiggins) who wanders around, unsure whether he’s awake or still dreaming, meeting all these people anxious to tell him about their “really deep thoughts”. Some of it is complex science, some’s stoner rambling, some is revolutionary ranting, some is just plain common sense. Sometimes we’re not even with Wiggins anymore, we’ll be, say, in a hotel room with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as their characters from “Before Sunrise” who are still in the midst of their ongoing conversation. Or we’ll stop by a prison cell where a convict is raging for revenge, or ride along with some dude with speakers on his car going on passionately against the establishment, or talking a walk with Nicky Katz and Adam Goldberg doing some chatter of their own. And then it’s back with Wiggins for some more encounters, some more talk.
Now, I could sample some of the film’s dialogue, but what would be the point of that? What is said in the film is not dogma to memorise; there aren’t any definite answers, just a lot of queries and interrogations. Philosophy is not about results, it’s about a process. A lifelong one. Once you’re done watching “Waking Life”, you won’t really understand the world better, but you’ll be more curious about the possibilities it offers. And you’ll be looking forward to going to bed and dreaming away. And then waking up but keep on dreaming. I think if the film says one thing, this is it. Don’t settle into certainties, live as in a dream where anything can happen if you want it to.