Review: Waking Life (2001)


Existentialism explored!

Written By: Richard Linklater
Directed By: Richard Linklater

I loved the days I spent in school, it’s one of the many reasons I always wanted to be an academic and still maintain the deluded hope that I may accomplish that goal someday. I engaged in plenty of coarse behavior in school, and I wouldn’t take any of that back. At the same time I was constantly engaged in intelligent discussion, whether it was the current story arc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the true meaning of life, there was always a discussion taking place that made the servos in my brain work overtime. I miss those days and those conversations, not only because there are less people around that I can have those types of discussions with, but also because as I get older I find myself not willing to engage in those types of conversations myself. I don’t have the energy for that level of detailed thinking all the time, but every once in a while I discover something that sparks that part of my brain into action yet again.

The idea is that movies are supposed to follow certain guidelines. Some of the most brilliant directors cinema has ever seen believed in following a certain set of guidelines when making a picture. Waking Life is a film that tells the guideline to fuck off. From the onset we enter a dream world, a dream world so vague that we have no idea what is real and what is imagined. By doing this the director, Richard Linklater, ensures that our focus isn’t on any plot or narrative. He wants our focus on the ideas being presented, on the thought process of man. You won’t find a plot or a sustained narrative in Waking Life, what you will find is a freedom of thought and motion that acts like a delightful summer breeze wafting through the window on a torrid Chicago summer day.

There are people who didn’t like Waking Life simply because of the ideas it propagates. That leaves me baffled, Waking Life at no point tries to say it has any of the answers. It floats from idea to idea, giving each presenter free reign to bring forth their outlook. That’s where the movie stops, it doesn’t try to pass off any of the monologues or conversations as the answer to life or any questions the viewer may have. All Waking Life asks is that you have an open mind and listen to what its characters have to say, because all life is questioning and the best life is the one where you approach new information with an open and thoughtful mind.

Waking Life isn’t just a dialogue driven piece, its visuals are interesting and add to the experience. This isn’t just because of the always unique rotoscope technique, but the dream state of the movie allows for the animation to take on a fresh approach to conveying ideas. In certain scenes when characters are talking the animation colors them based on their thoughts or tosses out different images to enhance the idea of the speaker. It’s entirely possible, and likely in my estimation, that in a live action setting Waking Life would not hold together as well. Without its unique animated feel Waking Life wouldn’t be the same movie.

Before I get into my final thoughts I have one small rant. As I neared the end of Waking Life I noticed that the film received an R rating. I immediately questioned this and thought back on what I had just seen, searching for anything that would justify an R rating. I came up blank and outside of some very tame adult language I found not a single instance that warranted an R rating. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Waking Life was awarded an R rating, this leaves me with the worst possible thought. Maybe Waking Life received its R rating because it does ask the audience to think, and thinking isn’t allowed for a younger audience. It’s not a good thought to have, but in my quest to figure out the reasoning for the R rating that’s all I could come up with.

I can see movie goers having problems with Waking Life. What I found new and invigorating others may find bland and uninteresting. This is my blog however, so my thoughts reign supreme. Waking Life is a triumph of film, a movie that isn’t concerned with any of the usual trappings, Waking Life is only concerned with intelligent thought and discourse. If you haven’t seen it then give Waking Life a chance, maybe it won’t be your cup of tea, but you may be surprised and love Waking Life just as much as I did.




5 responses to “Review: Waking Life (2001)

  1. Really enjoyed your review, it was a great read.

  2. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Animated Bonanza! | Bill's Movie Emporium

  3. I thinks it’s all about a collection of intellectual contemporary thoughts and philosophy which are truly mixed with science and spiritualism. The mixture is rough and unpleasant by its contents and nature; now add some vibrating, wavy shaky animation that flies noise-fully and constantly in front of your eyes. There is no stationary thing in the scenes it’s just moving objects with complicated-looking, shallow-nature monologues or dialogues: all are micro-lecturers to introduce an idea, theory, philosophy etc. It’s an attempt to summarize all the debates around the world in religion, spirituality, consciousnesses, humanity, free-will, society, laws, freedom, morality etc in a messy complex medicine. The movie is dreams in dreams and if you have a full stomach like what I had, it will be a vomit time in the middle of it. Don’t recommend it if you are not passionate about making yourself sick (mentally and physically) !

  4. Interesting take, but for me the exploration of ideas and philosophy was a liberating feeling. I didn’t feel sick or exhausted, but like my brain had been given a good workout.

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