Richard Linklater waxes philosophical at the Pageant.
Film as waking dream is just one of the subjectsUsing digitally rotoscoped renditions of live-action video footage, Waking Life has the look of an animated fantasy film in an artsy-whimsical mode. It is all of that, but it’s also an episodic string of oddball encounters and philosophical moments, with an attentive and patiently curious young man (Wiley Wiggins in the cartooned-over video footage) as recurring observer and occasional participant.
The neo-picaresque wanderings of narrative focus in Linklater’s Slackers surface here too, but in a more intriguingly convoluted context. Several episodes turn out to be dreams from which the Wiggins character awakens, and several others give the dreamer instruction on assessing the realities of what he’s dreaming. Consequently, the film takes shape not only as a dream vision, but also as a non-linear tour of beckoning wisdoms in the consciousness of a young man possessed of burgeoning intellect and imagination.
At one point, the Wiggins figure has reason to believe that he’s trapped in a dream (or even a dream within a dream) and can’t get out. But there’s nothing claustrophobic about Linklater’s film. On the contrary, it has a liberating openness matching that of Slackers, and it expands its range of concerns well beyond the heady peregrinations (and perorations) of the earlier film.
An encounter with a Bazin-quoting cinema studies type indicates that Waking Life can also be taken as a meditation on the visionary powers of film art, and maybe even as a movie meditating on its own nature. And part of the good news there is that Linklater is concerned much more with imaginative leaps of thought and experience than with the dead-end paradoxes customarily yielded up by such "post-modernist" self-reflexiveness.