Hatched from the ever-expansive and creative mind of Richard Linklater, Waking Life is a pseudo-docudrama about a guy who is seemingly stuck within dream-state realities and as the film goes on; we go on this spiritual journey with him as he interacts with various individuals. With each interaction, many philosophical ideologies emerge, with the film delving deep into the concepts of the nature of reality, the meaning of life, existentialism, post-humanity, consciousness, dreams, and the notion of free will. Animated through rotoscoping, this is undeniably a truly unique viewing experience that will intrigue some, but might leave some frustrated.
Linklater tackles the ideas of the true nature of our existence and the way lucid dreams affect our perception of reality, as well as many other topics, but what makes the film striking by itself is its unique and flawless animation. Almost like a precursor to the similarly rotoscoped animated-film that Linklater would do later, the superb A Scanner Darkly, the animation in this film captures the unique and surreal vision Linklater set out to create, and through this rotoscoped portrait of philosophy, the film succeeds greatly in creating a dreamlike viewing experience for the suspecting viewer. Every now and then, we all experience those kind of dreams where you've gone somewhere and done something that could've been great or terrible, and then when you wake up, you vaguely remember the specifics, yet the thought is always there at the back of your mind. The film creates that same emotion, which is perfectly reflected by the animation's fluid, water-like, characteristics and jumpy attitude.
The notion of spending an entire film talking about the philosophical notions of life, the universe and everything is surely going to sound like a chore for some, but what Linklater does is try to present those same concepts as they are, but through a unique film style, rather than going all out and trying to reinvent those ideas and notions. This goes to show how much of a versatile genius Linklater is as a filmmaker, after tackling many genres with comedies (School of Rock and Bernie) and dramas (Boyhood and the Before trilogy), but with every project he does, he tries something that is unique and different from the film he has done before. This could be seen like a semi-companion piece with Slacker, which dealt with people interacting and discussing philosophical topics, yet this stands out as its own entity.
That's not to say the film is accessible to all audiences because, in truth, it isn't, as some people will probably just get bored or frustrated by it and deride as nothing but naval-gazing balderdash. However, Waking Life is one of the most unusual and most thought-provoking films you'll ever see, visually striking and superbly acted all round. With each and every person we encounter on the protagonist's spiritual journey, it's like we are eavesdropping on a meaningful conversation that holds real weight on emotion, highlighting the concept of the intertwining of one's dream life with their "waking life" and how those can collide with other people's as well. Memories become dreams and vice versa.
WAKING LIFE (2001) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: RICHARD LINKLATER / STARRING: WILEY WIGGINS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW