Waking Life (2001) (R)
This review contains SPOILERS!
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that was so electrifying you couldn't think of anything else all day? Or maybe it was a movie...or maybe, as is the case most commonly with me, it was a joke. When you retell it, it loses all of its wonder and you find yourself wondering what it was about that initial moment that struck you so much. Ever had that? Yeah, I'm betting Richard Linklater has too.
Much of "Waking Life" feels like the balancing act between explaining in nuanced and excruciating detail, the present circumstances, and taking a step back to marvel at it without ever allowing for genuine expressionism. That's the nerdy way of saying, it's a little pretentious, like yours truly
The movie has no character names and feels like it belongs in the middle of Linklater's career, high-fiving his other movies with nods to the protagonists of the "Before" trilogy and feeling very similar in its narrative to "Slacker". Anyway, that being said, the movie is a meditation on dreams and reality, a kind of visual representation of what it must be like to be stuck in perpetual dreams.
The main character wanders from a train station and is picked up by a man driving a car/boat on the road. He sits in the back with a man who resembles Linklater while the driver informs them that all people have been given an amount of "crayons" to manage life with, and what they do with those crayons, the pictures they make, is all left up to them. A different character makes similar comments later when he muses on why humans don't reach their fullest potentials. After this comment, the lead boy is dropped off and he walks down the street, bending down to pick up a piece of paper which predicts his fate--he is struck by a car and wakes up in bed.
So begins the vicious cycle of the movie. Waking, plunging further into the dream, and contemplating the nature of dreams themselves. It's like you're walking on a college campus with a wristwatch and you stop inside a hallway of professors' offices and you enter each one and ask them to tell you their specialty in three minutes. They ramble and use the jargon flows over your head but you follow, then you move to the next door and so and a so forth until you make it through to the end of the hallway. Well, that was interesting. But what was the point?
Of course, you could make that argument about any movie ever but this movie, more so than others, feels inaccessible for its prestige and conversation. Linklater strays from his usual commentary and narrative of "ordinary humans" which usually looks like 'suburbia white people' and instead, ponders on the making of the movie itself. Just when the film couldn't stretch any further, it develops a broader narrative and effectively collapses.
"Waking Life" is not pleasant to watch because it isn't entertaining. The animation of the movie is pretty amazing at moments, and very experimental at others, for all its intricacies, it suits the movie well.
What the film lacks is a sense of motivation to finish it. It's tiring to watch the lead plot through another set of intellectual hypotheses any to gently shrug and behave in such a fashion as we expect from Linklater's characters: nonchalant. Yet the movie could have been so many other things from more experimental to even more like a horror film. But there is a reason that Linklater chose to do things the way he did, I'll just think it was the wrong decision.
As the movie nears the end, the discourse surrounding dreams and death comes to a point and, like the movie itself, without any place to go or any sense of conclusion, it floats away and vanishes from sight
Posted by Micah Jones