Waking Life (2001) Review

What you do makes a difference. We should never simply write ourselves off and see ourselves as the victim of various forces. It’s always our decision who we are.

A single ego is an absurdly narrow vantage from which to view this experience. And where most consider their individual relationship to the universe, I contemplate relationships of my various selves to one another.

The trick is to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of your dreams. Because, if you can do that, you can do anything.

These are just some of the many quotes from Richard Linklater’s journey, Waking Life, that will make you think any number of ways. The film follows an unnamed young man as he goes from instance to instance hearing different perspectives on subjects such as existentialism, government, the collective and individual’s minds, God, reality, and perspective among many, many others. It starts with our protagonist not quite realizing he’s dreaming, however once he does he fears he may never be able to leave and begins making that clear to other characters. A pretty basic premise, right? Right. That’s what I thought.

I don’t even know where to start because honestly, my mind is just kind of blown out and tired after watching this film. As it jumps from topic to topic, one completely unrelated character to another (the protagonist isn’t even with some characters as they have a one-sided discussion with you), Waking Life expects you to listen, dispute or agree, silently form your opinion based on what you’re hearing and seeing, then jump to a wholly new aspect of philosophy. And it’s brilliant, but this will never become more than a once-a-year movie for me. As much as I think this movie should be shown in Philosophy classes or just colleges in general everywhere, I could never casually watch this. The amount of comprehension and thought it asks you to muster is just too great, even if I enjoyed my time spent. The thoughts and ideas that are told and given are so well-thought out, even the personally and objectively disagreeable ones, that everyone will have something to think about after sticking out the 1 hour and 41 minute run time. The film was created via Rotoscope and digital animation giving it an incredibly unique style that fits perfectly. changing as much as its scenery and ideals. I will say, though, that it won’t make everyone happy as the most alike thing I can compare it to would be A Scanner Darkly or Flash-based animations. People randomly fade in and out, become solid color, get more and less detailed quickly, and everything moves literally the entire film (inanimate objects included) which I found myself likening to my own dreams, but towards the end it was a bit much.

Waking Life is… an experience and a journey, one that I think everyone should at least try to tread. A couple of my friends have also seen it and have said it took them two or three watches to really grasp everything great about it, which tells me I’ve only begun to submerge in to the depths of what the film has to offer. With its eye-opening discussions, it will enrich your point of view on certain things, or strengthen your own view yet give you insight in to others. While Waking Life may never be that casual film someone watches for pure fun or adrenaline, its message is one you can continue to visit and take from as you grow older.

8/10

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