Waking Life

Starring:
  • Pseudo-Academic Babbling
  • SquiggleVision
  • Lots and Lots of Slackers

 

Directed by the Slacker-in-Chief
"Did you hear that shimes--yeah, the other filmsnob--actually put Snow Falling On Cedars at #20 on his personal top one-hundred list? He's the only person in the free world who actually liked the fucking thing. That guy thinks he's film critic?"

An Expression of the Holy Moments of Cinema

A boy imagines that he's suspended in the air, clinging to the handle of his family's station wagon. He lets go and floats away to an alternative universe of enlightened bums, monotone professors pontificating on the excitement of existentialism, and an angry man broadcasting antiestablishment rants from a loudspeaker atop his car. Yes, the boy lands in Austin, Texas.

Waking Life may be an expression of a first year at college—a colorful, dizzying experience in which perceptions are shaped by babbling Nietzsches. Richard Linklater's film is a plotless, freeform poem of metaphysical, metacognitive discussions on life, knowledge, dreams, and the like. Much of the explosion-gawking, sex-craving mob might find this dull as an Al Gore stump speech, but the philosophical musings—even if kookily incoherent—are alive, worthy of the animated world created for them. At its best, Waking Life is an engaging, enlightening graduate class; at worst, Starbucks inhabiting a Robert Smigel cartoon. But as an experiment in filmmaking, Waking Life is never less than fascinating, and, like a professor who recognizes a dull lecture, labors to keep our attention in its world. Discount Kants cogitate while the animation narrates: Existentialism taught through "Fun With Reel Audio." A bearded class-warrior talks about the origins of life, his body squirming with amebic malleability, as if at any moment, he could reproduce by splitting his nuclei. A cut stud in a black tee-shirt rants about animalistic chaos and the sharkish media—perhaps under the weight of Henry Rollins—while nonchalantly filling a gas can and setting himself aflame.

Much to the eternal gratitude of fans of Before Sunrise, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy apparently lasted beyond that magic moment atop the ferris wheel. Here, they appear right at sunrise to ramble on about the factorials of common imaginings, proof that the collective unconscious is a sort of telepathy...or something like that. Their moment with us is fleeting; we leave them for a wonk who's discovered free will amongst the laws of quantum mechanics, that human existence is more than random chance in a probability system.

Sometimes the dialogue hovers closer to this planet. Two women—the women in this film are generally more shrill than the men, thus don't come off as well—scoff at the youthful idea that we'll somehow plateau in our mid-thirties. Some of the scenes, like this one, are succinct and tight; others are a flood of empty pronouns and prepositional phrases. Waking Life suffers as it wears on, like a wilting lecture hall. The animation grows hard to watch—imagine, without commercials, four back-to-back episodes of "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist." But as the film winds down, it asks us to question cinema as a slave to story, and Waking Life, in all its formless glory, earns the right. Linklater's film is about the "holy moments" of cinematic truth, when we see a vision of the divine by staring into the eyes of the filmmaker.

Admittedly, the final thirty minutes are a tiresome journey through the possibilities of waking dreams, is it all a dream, are you a dream, can we control our dreams, etc. Waking Life could be an expression of the freshman experience, but as it wore on, I began to feel like a senior—tired of all the blathering, wanting to get on with real life, whatever that is. But I can look back on it with nothing but profound respect. Perhaps Waking Life is a free associative crayoning of the final moments of life—perhaps it's both these things. For many of us, college is the death of learned truths and the birth of fresh perceptions, Waking Life a painting of the final moments of that old life, moments before we let go of the handle of the family station wagon, forever, and float away to a new world. Linklater's landmark might just prepare us for an new, enlightened life at the movies.

 

The Pitch:
2 Starbucks
Plus
1 "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist"
Plus
1 Phillip K. Dick
Equals
4 Waking Life
See It For:

A couple of Middle Eastern-looking guys trying to figure out how to convince John Ashcroft that they're not terrorists.