One of my favourite versions of filmmaker Richard Linklater other than the naturalistic and ever-growing Before trilogy would be his meandering animated experiment Waking Life. But maybe this meandering is the only way that Waking Life can work as perfectly as it does, and it’s another brand of Richard Linklater that I wish I could see more of. It draws back to what he created in his debut film, Slacker, but something about Waking Life makes it feel like a more fully realized project in itself. But it’s a sort of Richard Linklater that I like atop all the rest because of how it feels just like what its title describes it as: a wake-up call for our lives and our minds, and without a doubt one of Linklater’s very best films.
We start off with an image of what seems to be an origami fortune teller being played by children, then we get a glimpse at our protagonist played by Wiley Wiggins. He has no name, but he wanders around within the state of an existential crisis. While on this journey, we witness and observe many philosophical discussions between people of all different sorts and at points we abandon our own protagonist in favour of topics ranging from film theory to existentialism. But as the pieces of the puzzle come together, that’s only one among the many things that makes Waking Life work as wonderfully as it does. We wander through something animated for ourselves within our minds, searching only for one thing: meaning. The way Richard Linklater captures this experience truly is Waking Life.
Life was one among many things that Richard Linklater always had a skill for capturing with such ease and in the case of Waking Life he draws back towards what he had presented to audiences with his debut, Slacker – a film that supposedly feels like it’s about nothing. But in the case of Waking Life I get another impression: he’s telling a story that carries its significance especially from how our thoughts form what it is that we see out of our life and he wanders through different states of mind as life continues moving on and rambling on about one’s general sense of direction. Waking Life doesn’t exactly have so much of a direction within itself but perhaps that’s why even amidst the animated palette it still feels as authentic as it does in how it captures a journey through the mind as it wakes up something for one’s life.
Maybe this sort of animation style is the only way in which a story(?) much like what is presented in Waking Life could be told, for there’s no concrete image inside the head for an idealized portrait of what’s set to come forth for we all recognize only meaningless babble. When the pieces come together, it’s a beautiful substance that they create with how they all tie in with its wandering protagonist. All of these strange circumstances and theories blend perfectly in order to form one of the most thoughtful pieces inside Richard Linklater’s ever-so-fascinating body of work. With Waking Life he has created some sort of a philosophical experiment that drew back memories of My Dinner with André, for as we weave through conflicting ideologies as they come together, we try to find an inner peace on a land where everything is calm.
It’s amazing to look at how well would Waking Life work as a quest to search for meaning inside a void. At times I just think to myself about how my own life has no meaning, but there’s something else coming out of Waking Life that gives me a greater desire on the inside. There’s a greater desire coming out primarily because we know deep down all we want to look for is a sense of meaning but it’s from how the smallest moments and how piecing every last fragment together results in something so much more profound on the inside. As clips that seem unconnected are thrown right at us, what only brings oneself closer to any sort of a desired meaning is a sort of objective that feels present within conscience. We never understand it directly, but it’s our grand desire – and ultimately it leads us to where greater meaning within our existence is set to be found. But I look back upon myself and even I wonder what have all my days of moving forward have done upon me, is something of significance set to arise within time?
That final image if anything signifies a sense of peace that fulfills this quest. In Waking Life, we walk through small thoughts of a wandering mind searching only for a concrete meaning somewhere within conscience. At its very best, it recreates a process almost like wandering through a dream and memories, for we explore perceptions of ideas as they come together but as they conflict one another, perhaps that’s how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. You can say Waking Life is a film about nothing, but that’s the greatest joy: its supposed “nothing” actually calls out for everything that is so meaningful within life. As seconds of our life continue to pass by, we still search for a greater meaning somewhere and we continue to look upon every small stop. But maybe what is most needed is that we need to wake our own lives.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox.
Directed by Richard Linklater
Screenplay by Richard Linklater
Produced by Tommy Pallotta, Jonah Smith, Anne Walker-McBay, Palmer West
Starring Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Steven Soderbergh
Release Year: 2001
Running Time: 101 minutes