Go to Homepage   Waking Life: Expressionistic Existentialism


Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:three and a half moon gifNew Line Studios (DVD), ASIN B00005TPLW
Wiley Wiggins -- or rather his character in the animated film Waking Life -- cannot wake from a seemingly endless series of lucid dreams, dreams in which he realizes he is dreaming. He can manipulate all objects except lights. The substance of each dream/vignette varies, but the most frequent thread weaves around pieces of wisdom and philosophy Wiggins picks up along the way, clues which shake his sense of time and illuminate a media-whipped apathy. Finally, the film leaves you with a sense that maybe the messages we receive from our noses, eyes, ears, tongues actually prevent us from perceiving truth.

VHS: waking lifeDirected by Richard Linklater (Tape, Dazed and Confused), each vignette varies in terms of animation style. One of the strongest influences throughout appears to be the Expressionist movement of the early 20th century, characterized by the paintings of Matisse. Expressionism favored explorations of the artist's and viewer's states of mind rather than accurate interpretations of the real world. Some of the color choices, in this light, seem pedantic (red for anger, for example).

In total, the look reminds me of fever dreams -- not the dreams themselves but the feeling of them. A few of the vignettes clunk, especially the vignette set in the local tavern. (Okay, I get it: guns are bad.) But the far greater majority will provoke probing minds into focusing on the most ordinary of social transactions -- for example, saying hello to a passing stranger. We say hello, we pass and never meet again in a world seeming to grow vastly more lonely with each passing stranger. (After several minutes of scintillating conversation, Wiggins leans in and asks, "How does it feel to be part of my dream?").

Linklater plays to his unique strengths, fusing a look to a film that makes philosophy not just provocative but witty and, while not necessarily romantic, ultimately life-affirming. One of the very first vignettes imaginatively focuses on Sartre and existentialism, often painted as a godless and bleakly amoral philosophy. Linklater examines instead the actual central tenets of responsibility and meaningful interaction. Themes of engagement and connection underlie all of Linklater's work, and in Waking Life his themes match the equally beautiful setting.

Michael Pacholski

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