Friday, April 29, 2005

Movie Review: Waking Life

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Every once in a while you run into one of those true raconteurs at a party somewhere (always seems to be in the kitchen.) The kind who can keep a slew of cunts enthralled as he raps out too-perfect set pieces on any number of topics. You know it's part of his trick bag and he's spun the same anecdotes dozens of times before, tweaking them along the way.

Strewn amongst the tales, which are delivered like a polished stand-up routine, are memorable lines that make you look at things in a different way. Maybe a product of the speaker's own mind or plucked from some pop-culture guru of the day.

But it doesn't really matter where the ideas came from...the cunt's entertaining and besides, he's better than most fools who can barely string together a few coherent thoughts let alone reel off a clever narrative.

Waking Life (2001, by Richard Linklater) is a unique animated film that features a series of such individuals, as they keep the main character (and audience) rapt and intrigued via their most passionate interpretations of the world around them. In essence this film is a series of vignettes, sewn together by the main character's search for instruction and insight on life, and ultimately, a way to escape the dream in which he finds himself immersed. The gentle and inquisitive nature of the young man (played by Wiley Wiggins) who may or may not be experiencing the last few moments of his life in a surreal, time-skewed final exit, somehow matches, and guides, the feel and ambience of this memorable film.

On first glimpse it appears to be a live-action movie in which artists then drew over top of the original footage. In fact, albeit in layman's terms, that's exactly what it is. It creates an interesting and powerful medium, flashing between varying degrees of a detailed adherence to an authentic representation of visual reality and simpler line drawings that symbolize the different subject matter and states of consciousness that the protagonist is undergoing. The animated format provides unlimited potential for various tricks and added effects, which are always used in interesting ways and add to the overall feel of this evocative film.

The various rants and smooth, world-view recitations are at worst, new-age claptrap that couldn't withstand a cursory challenge of the concepts presented. The film is not unconscious of this fact. The wide range of viewpoints presented in the various monologues will undoubtedly provide at least some ideas or new way of looking at things that will appeal to many different individuals. While scoffing at a few, I couldn't help but be drawn into subsequent rants and soliloquies.

The film eventually moves towards a discussion on the nature of reality and the power of lucid dreaming.

The overall tone of the movie, though created by the seemingly independent voices represented by different characters or types in society, is not averse to mocking some of those very exhortations. Or more accurately, the same characters question themselves and provide a few different avenues for the viewer to examine their words and thoughts. A left or right ideological bent is not necessarily provided as the standard against which to judge various ideas presented. But more concisely: have they come to their views in an honest way? Does their highlighted bit of wisdom provide either a helpful or destructive road map for life?

The repeated changing of venues and eclectic mix of different characters seems meant to remind us of the richness of ideas and alternate viewpoints in life. The celebration of the vast array and potential ecstasy of life, the joyous incomprehensibility that keeps us wondering and searching.

It reminded me of a television interview I saw with an author, now deceased, a few years ago. The interviewer was querying the venerated literary legend on the amount of written garbage that is produced and lapped up by the masses. Far from taking the bait and segueing into a rant that would, by comparison, highlight himself as brilliant, the author made the point that those creating such supposed "garbage" must be committed to their work for it to resonate with any audience.

This film is far from garbage but the point is that the same concept done in a less intelligent way would have fallen flat and come off as contrived and pathetic. Here, the outcome seems so in line with what must have been the film-maker's vision that you can only applaud and take it all in.

Like zombie flicks, Neil Young and pints of Guinness, I'm guessing that this is a love it or hate it kind of film. For me the movie worked in many different ways, the most important being that it made me think and feel. Among other things it reminded me to steer away from the constant attempts to degrade, especially about those who make an effort to get close. After all, what is a mate except someone who buys your bullshit and riffs off whatever you have to say?

Like a mirror-image of that distinct phenomenon that yanks have foisted onto the world, i.e. the "my-life-as-a-movie" persona, this is at times a movie like that...people rapping so solemnly and deftly that it could only be a movie...but wait a minute, it is a damn movie. It's the sense that so many for so long have been looking out of the corner of their eye, conscious that other cunts are eavesdropping on their deep conversations and marveling at their lives. Here it has come full circle. The "art-as-life" enigma rears its head again, and it is heartily welcomed.

Try as I might, I couldn't dismiss this film. The likelihood that it has sparked numerous conversations in dingy university housing flats amongst groups of 1st year liberal arts students is undoubted. I find myself wishing I could take a joyous and ethereal page from this film and transport myself to some of those youthful celebrations.

Cross-posted at: Blogcritics