Waking Life

Waking Life


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Richard Linklater likes big questions. Waking Life poses more biggies than any other film in recent history. From Freudian explorations of the significance of dreams, to our current place and purpose in the universe, writer/director Linklater and art director Bob Sabiston have devised one of the most original and challenging cinematic works for quite some time.

Animation is the film's backbone and main novelty. It flits and floats like ripples in water, amplifying the ethereal experiences of our curious protagonist (Wiley Wiggins). Without its use, the 60-odd characters would appear lifeless bores; academics ranting for the sake of ranting. The benefit of animation is that it can transcend ordinary human features and expressions, adding a fundamental edge and radiance to the characters' personalities. Having said this, they are so real that, at times, the animation seems transparent.

Copy picture

What's it all about, then? Good question. The audience is cordially invited to participate in the world of intellectual "what ifs", as the unnamed hero attempts to find the meaning of life. Passively absorbing information like a sponge from loads of random intellectuals, questions of existentialism, human evolution and the nature of dreams are banded about from one level to the next.

Half the time, Wiggins is dreaming; the rest, he's thinking about it. This leads into all sorts of avenues. One night, he finds out that it's possible to take control. A guy informs him, "You can always tell if you're dreaming. If you can't switch the light on and off then it's a dream." Not a bad test; there is a fine line between our perception of dreams and reality.

Freudian concepts are also explored, such as how fragments of dreams can have a particular bearing on one's past and present life. Sounds horribly dry and academic, but the brilliance of the animation manages to hold a highly ambitious project together. On occasions heavy subjects almost sink, like lead balloons, and it's hard work. Don't expect to understand everything and don't expect answers. Questions are answered with questions, but it will make you think.

Sabiston and his team have worked wonders in the art department. Using real life actors as bases, they have captured the essence of their own little idiosyncrasies perfectly. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Wiley Wiggins are expertly rendered. Wiggins's facial and body language smacks of the gawky teenager in Dazed And Confused.

Waking Life is a like-or-loathe affair. There are moments when it treads dangerously close to pretension and self-importance, but the dream-like feel of the whole thing brings it down to earth. Bottomless questions are dug, but the answers lie deeper. Or do they really exist?

In the words of Edgar Allan Poe: "Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream."

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2003
Share this with others on...
Waking Life packshot
Rotoscope hero attempts to divine the meaning of life through his dreams.
Amazon link

Read more Waking Life reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray *

Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Charles Gunning, Adam Goldberg, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater

Year: 2001

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US,


SSFF 2013

Search database: