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Waking Life

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Waking Life

Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke
Director: Richard Linklater
Rated: R
RunTime: 97 Minutes
Release Date: October 2001
Genres: Animation, Comedy

*Also starring: Nicky Katt, Julie Delpy, John Christensen, Charles Gunning, Steven Prince, Steven Soderbergh, Timothy Levitch, Richard Linklater

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1.  Edward Johnson-Ott review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie review
3.  Dustin Putman read the review movie reviewmovie review

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2½ stars out of 4

Let me make this clear from the onset: THIS FILM IS NOT FOR EVERYBODY.

Reportedly, just prior to the premiere of "Waking Life" at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Richard Linklater ("The Newton Boys," "Slacker") faced his audience and said, "How many of you out there are on drugs?" When a number of hands were raised, he added, "Good. This is for you. The rest of you, just bear with me."

"Waking Life" is 97 minutes long. For the duration of the film, various actors discuss philosophical issues. The images of said performers, initially shot on digital film, were then turned into of "animation" by artists working over the rotoscoped images. The end result is akin to watching a group of cartoon characters having a feature-length late night coffeehouse chat.

As I said, this film is not for everybody.

Visually, the results are lovely, looking like a cross between a contemporary independent comic book and some vintage hippie doodling. Features glide about, eyes briefly float over faces, etc. etc. But despite the flourishes, the "cartoons" display remarkable detailed facial expressions and body language. Every line is in constant motion, as if filmed on a boat or an amusement park ride. The combination of realistic expression with surreal imagery is arresting. I would love to see a film with a plot done in this fashion.

And then there are the actors and their words. The main character (no names are ever given) is played by Wiley Wiggins ("Dazed and Confused"). Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, along with Speed Levitch and director Steven Soderbergh also contribute.

Wiggins discusses his slips into dream-states with several strangers. Could he be in a constant dream-state? Could the film be a reflection of that? Conversational subjects include reincarnation, identity, free will and quantum mechanics, existentialism, telepathically shared experiences, science and God, free will and what goes on in the six to 12 minutes of brain activity before it actually goes terminal.

"Waking Life" is an interactive movie. A great part of its value comes from how you react to it. For some, the conversations will be like fingernails across a blackboard. For others, the discussions will be as involving as the visuals are lilting. As someone currently having extreme difficulty sleeping, I got caught up in the notion of life being a series of shifts between one level of consciousness to another.

Take it as an experiment or a challenge. Or just pretty pictures with a lot of chatter. Or don't take it at all.

As I said, this film is not for everybody.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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