Waking Life (2001) – movie review

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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Steven Soderbergh, Peter Atherton, Steve Brudniak

Director: Richard Linklater

Life as a dream within a dream…. Not the most original of topics but Richard Linklater’s new film is certainly state of the art in terms of computer animation. Originally shot on DV with live actors, the film has been ‘roto-scoped’ to create an animated effect, which looks like you’ve selected a palette of about 20 colours so that flesh and skin tone appear as solid blocks of colour. Impressive yes – but rather a case of style over content.

Wiley Wiggins floats through the film as the central character trying to find out the meaning of life. He meets some interesting characters along the way (Ethan Hawke in bed etc). Wiley knows he is in a dream because he can’t make out the digits on his alarm clock and people keep turning up in his subconscious to share their pearls of wisdom on the human condition with him. There are some meaty thoughts there to get your head around – should we “go with the flow – because the sea refuses no river”. Have words become dead symbols so that we are unable to make true spiritual connection with other people? And when we feel a spiritual connection with somebody else is that the closest thing we’re ever going to get to God? As for the new evolutionary paradigm where digital and analogue exist but neither will compete for future domination I’m afraid I got a bit lost!

Now if you’ve not much patience for dream themes or people getting stuck in time you’re probably not going to like this film. Maybe, like me you’ve always felt short-changed when Bobbie Ewing emerged from the shower in DALLAS having dreamt the entire series or perhaps GROUND-HOG DAY and RUN LOLA RUN annoyed the hell out of you.

There are some interesting facts to impress your friends with – apparently the brain cells keep working for about 6-12 minutes after you die – so you might experience all kind of strange dream activity in that time. Perhaps it’s like the feeling of falling asleep for one minute and waking the next having felt you’ve just dreamt hours of complicated, intricate adventure. Also as we’re mainly made up of water – what happens to the concept of free will if it’s just the water and chemicals inside us reacting to a few physical and chemical laws. And what is the self if our cells completely regenerate themselves every 7 years? What is the most universal human characteristic? Fear or laziness. I’ll leave you to ponder….

Any good dream should have at least a good lesson or moral. And though Richard Linklater appears at the end of the dream journey to share some of his own philosophy with us – it doesn’t really become any clearer? If you want some philosophy made easy I’d suggest you read ‘Consolations of Philosophy’ by Alain de Botton to make a bit more sense out of your world.

2 out of 6 stars