Waking Life (2001)

R   |    |  Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Waking Life (2001) Poster

A man shuffles through a dream meeting various people and discussing the meanings and purposes of the universe.

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  • Waking Life (2001)
  • Waking Life (2001)
  • Ethan Hawke at an event for Waking Life (2001)
  • Ethan Hawke at an event for Waking Life (2001)
  • Waking Life (2001)
  • Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater at an event for Waking Life (2001)

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22 June 2008 | bob the moo
Visually and content-wise interesting if not totally successful or as smart or insightful as it wanted to be
I watched Waking Life more for the visual appeal because I wanted to see Linklater's use of rotoscoping before he did it to mixed effect in A Scanner Darkly. With this in mind I did not have a clue what the film was about and for some reason I thought it would be some sort of New York set Slackers comedy with a lot of narrative drift – I have no idea where I got this idea from but it was at least accurate in regards the "narrative drift". To describe the basic plot it is enough to say that the main character spends the film in a sort of dream state in which he meets/sees all manner of people who discuss ideas, theories and philosophy of life – and that's more or less it.

OK so by now you already know whether you will hate this or not, although you don't know if you will like it. If you're in the mood for an action film with everything spoon-fed to you then just leave this one on the shelf of course. So now we are down to who will like this film and I sort of fall into that camp but not entirely due to the film itself. The constant stream of rambling discussion and thought is rather hit and miss. At times it made me think for myself around what the characters were saying and it engaged my brain in a way that I suspect it wanted to. At other times the philosophy and thoughts are those of the pop-culture Gen X slacker and as such they are "depth" for those with shorter attention spans. At other times it just came over as out and out pretentious. Of these three feelings the split was reasonably even and it did damage the film that it was not as smart or as insightful as it clearly wanted to be.

It did do enough to make me glad I watched it though and this feeling is partly down to the experience of watching something that stands out from everything else. What I mean by this is that watching it one never doubts that you are watching an indie film with a lot of creativity and ideas behind the writing and delivering of the film. OK so it doesn't all work and not all the ideas turn out to be good ones but as an cinematic experience it is nice to have something that is not another genre comedy or serviceable action blockbuster. This creativity expands to the animating of the life-action and again while not totally successful it is at least interesting. This technique is sometimes pointless when it is literally just animated life-action but it introduces movement to static items, visualises words and of course allows things like floating to be easily shown. I would not want to watch a film done this way every week but again seeing it not only done but done for a reason within the material is worth the experience.

Waking Life is far from a good film but it is undeniably creative and interesting. As much works as doesn't about it and the material could have been stronger for a better film but it is still an experience worth having if you know what you are getting into. It is the summer season and the next massive (and disappointing) effects-driven blockbuster will be along imminently so Waking Life is worth checking out because it is the polar opposite by being experimental, creative and interesting. Yes it is flawed and weak but somehow the strengths make me forgive it such failings for at least having the spirit to try.

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