March marks the first month since Disney Star’s release, with many previously unreleased content from the Disney-Fox merger becoming available. Amongst these is the brilliant and lesser-known Waking Life (2001), an experimental, anti-movie from director Richard Linklater, which focuses on a protagonist’s attempts to escape from a series of lucid dreams.
The movie deliberately functions less like traditional films; oftentimes it will simply follow the protagonist in conversation with an intellectual against the dream-like backdrop, but it will sometimes shift into random, unrelated characters’ conversations, which often play a role in the intellectual debate the film is concerned with. Due to the conversational nature of the movie, it almost feels like a modern Socratic dialogue – the young and inexperienced narrator is subjected to the individual philosophies of real philosophers, thinkers, and academics, whose ideas are beautifully animated. The varied ideas that the film discusses range from conversations about the idea of film as the perspective of God, the self-destructive nature of modern living, Phillip K. Dick’s psychosis, what the essence of reality is, and so forth. All these philosophical questions merge together into a film that directly asks the viewer – what is life if not a waking dream?
But the film’s greatest triumph lies not in its philosophical undertones, but instead with its unique visual structure. The entire film has been rotoscoped – a technique which involves animating over real footage. Every single scene was shot digitally, and then an animator overlaid animation mimicking the live-action shot, which produces an unreal effect that imitates the look and feel of dreams.
If you’re looking for a film that makes you think about and question reality, one which will challenge your perceptions not just about life but about film, then I highly recommend giving Waking Life a watch.