Waking Life

Year: 2001
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
Cast: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Steven Soderbergh
Incredible, one of the best visions of the moviemaking medium in years.

Was it the dialogue, or the incredible technique used to make the movie? It wasn't the story, as there isn't one. It's a series of segments about people - some famous to the general public, some famous to cinephiles, academics and the literati - talking about their experience of the mysteries of human existence, evolution, free will, God and death.

It's all set against a single young man (Wiggins, the kid who acted so atrociously in Dazed and Confused who Ben Affleck was obsessed with spanking with a wooden paddle) who as it turns out, is having a dream he can't wake up from as he travels from one encounter to another.

And the dialogue is at times fascinating enough, from the discussions on how humanity will develop to the ancient question of how we can have choice if God pre-designed the universe.

Some segments are simply confusing, the pseudo-philosophy too abstract to follow (although repeated viewings would undoubtedly uncover it), and some - like the prison sequence - have apparently nothing to do with the rest of the movie, but if you take it all in, it raises questions that will hold you riveted if you've ever posed them yourself.

As well, there are sequences with no apparent connection other than they're there, like the bar room discussion about the robbery and subsequent shooting (with a brilliant animated shower of blood).

And the film itself - the actual film as opposed to the movie - was a triumph, something I don't think had ever been done before. The Internet Movie Database describes it as being "shot entirely on video cameras, mostly handheld, then rotoscope-animated on Mac G4 computers and later transferred to 35mm film".

That was a revolutionary idea in itself and would have been enough to impress, but each sequence is of a different animation quality, sometimes as simple as a Disney cartoon with very little expression of background movement, sometimes with so much richly layered detail you can see the video behind the animation.

And that's what makes it so fascinating to watch despite there being no story. Because it was taken from film/video to begin with, the movement and action is as lifelike as a movie - to watch detail no animator would be bothered addressing in animated form is incredible.

Together with offbeat images (the boat car) and trying to place the real people who've been filmed (I picked Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Steven Soderbergh), it tells the story of a dream that's beautifully written, beautifully directed, and art in a stronger sense than most movies are.

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