Richard Linklater (2001)
“It’s bad enough you sell your waking life for-for minimum wage, but now they get your dreams for free.”Guy Forsyth
Waking Life is a 2001 American experimental adult animated film written and directed by Richard Linklater. The film explores a wide range of philosophical issues, including the nature of reality, dreams and lucid dreams, consciousness, the meaning of life, free will, and existentialism. It is centered on a young man who wanders through a succession of dream-like realities wherein he encounters a series of individuals who engage in insightful philosophical discussions.
The entire film was digitally rotoscoped. It contains several parallels to Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their characters from the 1995 Before Sunrise in one scene. Waking Life premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and was released on October 19, 2001, where it received critical acclaim.
All we see and all we seem is but a dream within a dream
By Roger Ebert (2009)
It is hard to say how much of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” (2001) is a dream. I think all of it is. His hero keeps dreaming that he has awakened. He climbs out of bed, splashes water on his face, walks outside and finds himself dreaming again. But the film isn’t one of those surrealist fantasies with pinwheels coming out of the hero’s eyes or people being sucked down into the vortex. It’s mostly conversational, and the conversation is all intriguing; the dreamer must be intelligent.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps he’s channeling it from outside. A woman in a coffee shop tells him her idea for a soap opera plot, and he asks her how it feels to be a character in his dream. She doesn’t answer, because how can she, since she’s only a character in his dream? On the other hand, where did she come up with that plot? He tells her he could never have invented it himself. It’s like it came to him in a … no, that doesn’t work. It’s like it came in from outside the dream.
And what is dreaming, anyway? A woman in the film speculates that when we dream, we are experiencing ourselves apart from our physical bodies. After we die, she says, doesn’t it make sense that we would keep on dreaming, but that we’d never stop dreaming because now we were apart from our bodies? No, it doesn’t make sense, I think, because our dreams take place within our physical brains. Maybe not. Maybe we only think they do.
“Waking Life” is philosophical and playful at the same time. It’s an extravagantly inventive film that begins with actual footage of real actors and then translates them into animated images; it’s called motion-capture, and you can see it in “Beowulf” and “300,” but it was startling when Linklater made his film in 2001, and showed it didn’t need to cost millions. A founding member of the Austin, Texas, filmmaking crowd, he collaborated with a software genius named Bob Sabiston, who did it all on Macs. It’s visually bright and alive — a joy to regard.
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