Waking Life

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/04/2002

Three out of five stars
Running Time: 90 mins

Just when you thought there was nothing new in cinema, especially American cinema, along comes Richard Linklater with one of the most radical and thought provoking films of the year.

But to go forward you sometimes have to go back; and it is to Austin, the location of Linklater’s debut film Slacker that he returns. In that film Linklater rounded up some of the more leftfield citizens of the city and invited them to air their views on life. Some of those same citizens appear here, though now in a barely recognisable form.

Waking Life was shot on digital video (a Sony TVR 900) and then animated using rotoscoping software. The results are quite stunning, though unlikely to give George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic the shakes. As in Slacker, conventional narrative is dispensed with in favour of a series of philosophical musings, but now the tone has moved decidedly upwards from the ramblings of Generation X.

The film starts with a student (Wiley Wiggins from Dazed and Confused) picking up a ride in downtown Austin. Not having a clear idea of his destination the driver drops him off at a random location promising that this will “change his life forever”. Sure enough, when he crosses the road he is hit by a car plunging him into a ‘dream state’, or maybe even a ‘death state’. There is also the possibility that the accident itself was just a dream.

The remainder of the film is mostly his attempt to reconcile his condition by way of a meditation on dreams. Pretty soon the discourse has turned to existentialism, Sartre and Kierkegaard, while the name of Philip K Dick is also dropped in relation to an entertaining anecdote about his book Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. At one point, the student dreams of two lovers (Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke, reprising their roles on Linklater’s Before Sunrise) offering their differing views of dreams.

So what you have here is a bizarre marriage of cutting edge technology and dialogue from Radio 4.

It’s a fascinating and successful experiment, though whether or not it is entertaining is another question. You soon find yourself tuning in and out, just like in dream. At times it’s quite frustrating as you begin to wish the conversation were interactive rather than being rendered a passive viewer. The stunning artwork is a useful destination for wandering minds when the going gets heavy, and may even prove to be a catalyst for a few dreams of your own.

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Waking Life
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Content updated: 23/11/2019 12:50

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