A Dream of a Film
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
I had this really weird dream a few nights ago. I'm sure you want to hear about it, so I'll just tell you anyway. So I found myself with some friends in a densely packed, stiflingly hot theater about to see Waking Life. Then the movie started. Funny thing ... if I wanted to write a review of the film I saw in my dream, it would probably go something like this...
Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused) stars in director Richard Linklater's (Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused) surrealistic buffet of a film questioning the nature of consciousness. Seemingly aimless in sequence and intriguing in substance, the film meanders from one anonymous character to another while stopping to gather the gist of each dialogue (or monologue).
The succession of characters ranges from ranting philosophers to friends chatting over coffee. The connection between these vignettes and Wiggins’ persona does not become established until halfway through the film - and even his actual state of existence is uncertain throughout the entire film. He cannot decide whether or not he is “awake.” He begins to question his agency within the world he thinks he exists in. Sound confusing yet?
As disorienting as Waking Life is, it will not change your life. The conversations, though intriguing, feel like they could have been packaged by an inspired, intellectual MTV (is this an oxymoron?), possessing just the right amount of extemporaneous mannerisms to be disarmingly cool. For example, the film’s too-quotable tagline queries “Are we sleep-walking through our waking state or wake-walking through our dreams?”
Most of the characters gush about some aspect of pop-philosophy, but several refreshingly original characters evoke laughter, emotion, and curiosity. Linklater’s informal approach makes many of these philosophical concepts more accessible for his audience - much like that edgy introduction to philosophy course you've always wanted to take.
Playing in limited engagements across the nation, Waking Life will end up further self-selecting its audience. Linklater creates an uncompromising narrative and style that makes the first 30 minutes hard to stomach (in more ways than one). Several people walked out of the movie when we went to see it -- which makes me curious as to what they expected in the first place. The trailer gives a good sense of what to expect, and offers the viewer a tantalizing taste of the best part of the film - the incredible medium.
Using new technology called rotoscoping, the film was shot and then painted over with added animation in some sections. What results is a sumptuous visual feast -- almost as if you had awakened in a world colored by shifting oil pastels. Illustrations often complement the dialogue, serving to clarify specific philosophical points, but also revealing the ambiguous pictorial basis of communication. During the course of their speeches, some characters change color and/or shape, rendering both speech and speaker fascinating and fleeting. The sheer effect of the undulating medium lingers with the viewer long after the theoretical details fade.
If you enjoy being challenged by a film’s medium as well as narrative, go try this movie. Better yet, go with a group and then talk about it afterwards. Even after you verbally paint yourself into a corner trying to pin down that hilarious concept of the “holy moment” or effectively kill the ideas of consciousness and dreaming with redundant over-discussion, you'll still appreciate the wash of meandering philosophy, of optical evanescence, and of possibility.
Then you can tell me whether or not I really watched the film -- or if it was all a dream.
Fred Choi, Winnie Yang, and Austin Wang contributed to this review.