Waking Life
November 14, 2008

by Pegleghippie

I have a new favorite movie.  It’s called Waking Life, a 2001 film by Richard Linklater, and I’m a little jealous that it exists, because that means that I don’t get to be the creator of such an awesome piece of art.  

Honestly, I was beaten at philosophy tonight.  I didn’t know it was a competition until this film came along and totally kicked my ass.  Now I know a little more about the stakes involved.

Waking Life follows a guy as he has various philosophical discussions with/dreams about writers, philosophers, psychopaths, crackpots, filmmakers, imaginative figments, and one very pissed off libertarian.  Many of these are real people really being interviewed about their area of expertise (oddly, many are faculty from the University of Texas at Austin), but the interviews flow seamlessly between real and imagined.

And imagination is really very important here.  The protagonist spends a long segment of the film not knowing if he is awake or dreaming, and the settings only subtly clue you in.  Eventually he becomes aware that he is in a lucid dream, which turns into a bizarre series of dreams-within-dreams, and the discussions turn increasingly towards what a dream-like reality entails.  Things end with the suggestion that all these dreams are the last firing of consciousness before the protagonist dies, but the narrative is unclear about whether this actually happens.

I can’t accurately summarize everything I loved about this movie.  Top of the list is the conversations, which are consistently mind-blowingly well thought out.  Here’s one example of an earlier one:

Insane, right?  and there are dozens of these, on a wide variety of topics, in the movie.  You could teach a course on this movie alone, going topic by topic, exploring each one for all that it’s worth.

Next thing I loved was the animation.  I’m sure you noticed from the first clip, this movie looks strange.  The style changes at least every scene, and often in the middle of a scene.  The strangeness of dreams is very well captured here.

I’ll admit, if you don’t like philosophy you will not like this movie.  Fortunately for me, I love philosophy, and this movie challenges me in ways I had not even considered.  I need to get a copy of it and watch it until I’m comfortable with the discussions.  Only then will I feel qualified to really engage with all these topics, and to conceptualize exactly what it is that Linklater did here.  

If you do like philosophy, even a little bit, see this movie.  I doubt you will regret it, and it may even change your life.

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