By Chris Fletcher (Myrtle Beach)
(This review does contain spoilers, proceed at your own discretion)
I felt like I was living an existential nightmare while watching Richard Linklater’s 2001 film Waking Life. The bulk of the film follows an unnamed male character (Wiley Wiggins) in an almost surreal world that uses rotoscoping to blend a sometimes very realistic art style with a very cartoon like style, that wax and wanes between the two to build this dream state world. The main character starts as an observer listening to others lecture to him about topics like free will, the meaning of life, politics, and lucid dreaming. He eventually moves into an active role as the dream progresses and he begins to realize he is dreaming. The transitions are often random and tend to jump from one conversation to the next with no real ques. But as you watch, you become settled into those movements from place to place.
There are also instances in which the focus shifts away from the main character and onto random individual people having monologues, or groups of people conversing with one another on assorted topics related to the philosophical. This shifting causes there to be little to no character development happening in the movie, outside of the unnamed male character becoming more active. While the use of the rotoscoping animation style was very interesting to look at and provided a more grounded sense of reality within this dream world, I found it more distracting than anything else. It often made it difficult for me to really pay attention to what was being said, because I was focused on how misshapen people were becoming. While all the topics that were discussed were thematically connected, it really felt like there was no story connecting these ideas.
This caused me to feel more often than not, like I was being lectured on philosophical concepts by a professor in a casual setting while having a very uncomfortable drug trip. But at the same time, I was interested to see where this would lead me to at the end. When I finally did get to the end, I was honestly a little frustrated when the main character floats away into the sky much like the boy in the beginning did. While there was a brief feeling of this circular narrative coming to an end, I also had this overwhelming since of abandonment, because I had just spent over an hour following this character and learning alongside of him; but there was no real sense of what he got out of this experience given to me with this conclusion. I also felt like I was left to make sense of this information dump that I had just witnessed, on my own.
I would recommend this movie only to people who are interested in topics of lucid dreaming and existentialism. It was very interesting, but it only got my attention because I enjoy very artistically driven movies. That being said, a more general or casual viewing audience will probably find this to be a boring watch, and probably confusing as well. Because there is no real major character development within the movie and the plot is more of a loosely connected patchwork of ideas; there really is no overt sense of a traditional story narrative or resolution. I think artistically, and philosophically this is a great movie that will get you thinking in ways you might not have before. But if you are looking for a movie to watch just for pure entertainment and no bigger meanings, you may want to look elsewhere.