Waking Life (United States, 2001)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

After a short three-year hiatus, filmmaker Richard Linklater (whose previous outing was The Newton Boys) has returned to the world of cinema with the offbeat and ambitious Waking Life, an animated excursion through the dreams and philosophical musings of the main character. Waking Life is clearly an experiment, and, as such, looks and feels much different from anything else recently seen on a movie screen. When he introduced the film at its Sundance 2001 premiere, Linklater posed one question to the audience, and it goes a long way towards setting the stage for Waking Life. "How many of you out there are on drugs?" he asked. When a number of hands went up, he added, "Good. This is for you. The rest of you, just bear with me."

Waking Life is animated, but not in tradition of Disney features. Linklater filmed the entire movie in live action, then digitally transferred the images to computers, where his animators went to work. The final result is disjointed and dreamy, with images that are sometimes finely detailed and sometimes almost crude. The backgrounds frequently waver, making it look like all of the action is taking place on board a gently rocking ship. This is all intentional, since every moment of Waking Life is meant to be transpiring inside a dream.

The nameless protagonist is played by Wiley Wiggins, who is perhaps reprising his role from an earlier Linklater offering, Dazed and Confused. Also making a return appearance are Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, picking right up where they left off in Before Sunrise (my choice for the best romance of all time). They are present in an interlude, having an intriguing discussion about dream activity and reincarnation. Indeed, Waking Life is comprised of a series of philosophical discussions ranging from how language evolved to the role of the media in modern life to free will & quantum mechanics to the meaning of identity. For those who enjoy this kind of rambling, talky motion picture, Waking Life offers a full platter. Guest appearances by the likes of director Steven Soderbergh and Speed Levitch (the motor-mouthed protagonist of The Cruise) only up the ante. Waking Life certainly isn't for everyone, but, in large part because of its fresh approach and its endlessly fascinating discourses, it ends up staying with you long after the jittery animated images have faded from the screen.

Waking Life (United States, 2001)

Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Wiley Wiggins
Screenplay: Richard Linklater
Cinematography: Richard Linklater
Music: Glover Gill
U.S. Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 2001-10-19
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1