WAKING LIFE is that rarest of films, one that is unique. Take one slacker and cycle him, or at least his consciousness, through a series of conversations, lectures really, by devotes of different philosophies. But more, take the film footage and put it through an animation technique called interpolated rotoscoping and what you get is, ironically considering the title, a dreamlike excursion through physics, metaphysics, and lunatic ravings on a heroic scale. Startling in its originality, dazzling in its erudition, it fearlessly tackles questions of free will, identity and the nature of reality itself while never losing its dream-within-a-dream quality. And thats good, because its central theme is whether waking life is in any meaningful way different that dreaming, or better, lucid dreaming. Nor does it slip into the swamps of pretentious pedantry. Linklater is serious here, but not insufferable. Sly humor delivers the message as easily as a logical proposition.
To use an analogy that falls hopelessly short, its sort of like FANTASIA meets MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. No dancing hippos, though, or bemused waiters, though the fantastical still applies. Trees palpate, houses disarticulate into a vibrating dance, words and ideas, as befits a film about them, are made manifest and hang in the air as a sometime sardonic antiphony to the text.
Our slacker guide is Wiley Wiggins, from Linklaters film DAZED AND CONFUSED. He drifts silently for the most part through the films segments, sometimes on screen, as with rhapsodic rhetorician Speed Levitch as he salsa dances with his condition, or a college professor-type, waxing optimistic about the future of human evolution. Sometimes hes off screen, observing with us, eavesdropping on a conversation between two pals over coffee as they discuss identity, or an angry, possibly psychotic prisoner, yowling his plans for revenge on the people who incarcerated him, plans that involve scissors and lighted cigarettes.
Slowly Wiley realizes through clues hes given that hes dreaming, clues like a digital clock with distorted numbers, a light switch that doesnt work. Linklater himself appears at the end telling Wiley that all he has to do is wake up, though, tellingly, teasingly, he doesnt tell him how.
Think of the best bull session you had in college, the all-night kind where you and your fellows debated every philosophical musing that you could think of or invent. Thats the starting point for WAKING LIFE. Its then distilled into an enigmatic, seductive lucid dream using rotoscoped live-action. The effect preserves the messiness of real life, the way it moves, while transmuting it into a flight of the most ethereal fantasy.