Richard Linklater is probably best known for his debut feature Slackers, which defined him as one of the most interesting new American independent Directors of the 1990s. Although Waking Life was released in 2001, it’s now available on DVD for anyone that missed it first time round (or those like me who want to check it out again).

Most of the film takes place in a kind of dreamscape. The Dreamer (the main character in the film) drifts in and out of sleep and becomes increasingly aware of the dilemma of consciousness – is he awake or just dreaming? Throughout the film he encounters a range of characters who either engage him in heavy conversations, or the Dreamer (and us as the viewers) are party to conversations between other characters, or the occasional ranting individual. Each conversation poses a series of philosophical and metaphysical questions about human existence. It’s like an amalgamation of every deep conversation you ever had round the kitchen table after a good smoke. As the dreamer says “I keep hearing these ideas which I sort of recognise but they keep washing over me”.

Initially the film can seem quite pretentious but it does become more engaging as it progresses. However, it’s fairly intense and not one to watch if you are tired as you’ll need to be fairly alert to keep up with the constant flow of ideas.

Due to the rather unusual script, the film certainly needed a strong visual style to convey the hallucinogenic and other-worldly experiences of the Dreamer. Linklater came across a unique animation technique called Rotoscoping which he felt was ideal for the project. The entire film was cast and shot like a normal film, but on digital cameras. After the film was edited it was saved in Quicktime format and imported into the Rotoscoping software. Then a team of animators worked on hand animating various sequences of the film. The overall effect is painterly and in parts almost cartoon-like. A wide variety of animation styles are used throughout the film and Linklater describes the film as being broken down into a series of vignettes, each of which was animated by different animators.

The most striking thing about Waking Life is that it’s an extremely ambitious project and whilst it may not be the best thing you’ve ever seen it’s well worth watching.

Waking Life (2001)
Dir. Richard Linklater
Stars: Wiley Wiggins, Trevor Jack Brooks, Lorelei Linklater
Genre: Animation

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