I haven’t the first idea what’s going on in Waking Life.
That was my initial impression of this film, a film from a director who, by all accounts, is far from conventional and this is apparent in two of his others I’ve seen – one of which I enjoyed (Dazed and Confused) and one of which I didn’t (Slacker).
Wiley Wiggins is a young man, apparently dreaming and ‘floating’ around the town, dropping in on random characters who offer up their own reflections on life – all different, so it’s a lot to take in. The people Wiley comes across include a philosophy professor, a man who keeps changing shape, one who rambles on about free will and whether man has free will or whether life is pre-determined (reminds me of a Simpsons episode!), a man in jail talking about how he’d murder those who captured him, a man who talks a short while as he pours petrol into a can before turning it on himself and striking a match and a scene in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles from the director’s Before Sunrise, a film I haven’t seen.
Waking Life is rather a mind-bender because it’s not just a case of filming people. They’re all animated. And not just drawn as standard, but done in a number of different styles, mainly either painted or cell-shaded. The way the various elements of the background shift about independently of one another is also something to get used to.
Some of what you hear in this film you can identify with, whereas others you won’t. There’s also things to learn, as Wiley can’t figure out whether he’s still dreaming after he wakes up, or if he’s really awake. The light switch man tells him to try flicking a switch in a dream: if you can manage it and the light levels don’t change, then you’re dreaming. Once realised, try to seize upon it and then you can control your own dreams and change the destiny within.
This is a film worth watching if you can get into it, but this takes 20-25 minutes to get with the flow. We must all have had a dream within a dream at some point, but how do you know when you’ve woken up?
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the animation is crisp and clear and as colourful or as dark as it needs to be. Zero defects. There’s no problem with the sound either. Although in Dolby Digital 5.1, it doesn’t make much, if any, use of split-surrounds so don’t get too concerned if you only get round to seeing this in Dolby Surround.
What there is a problem with is the extras, or rather the total lack of them. I couldn’t believe it when I put the disc in and saw a static and silent menu containing options to just play the film, select a scene or subtitles. I thought perhaps there was an easter egg that would find something because the film’s a little ‘out there’, but no, nothing.
The Region 1 DVD, on the other hand, contains two audio commentaries, a ‘greatest hits’ from the live action version, Bob Sabiston’s animation software tutorial, deleted live action scenes, selections for Linklater’s audition tapes, a featurette, a Sundance Channel specail and two short filmsby Bob Sabiston.
Running time: 96 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cat.no.: 23299 DVD
Released: February 24th 2003
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
Disc Format: DVD9
Director: Richard Linklater
Producers: Tommy Pallotta, Jonah Smith, Anne Walker-McBay and Palmer West
Screenplay: Richard Linklater
Music: Glover Gill and Tosca Tango Orchestra
Main character: Wiley Wiggins
Young Boy Playing Paper Game: Trevor Jack Brooks
Young Girl Playing Paper Game: Lorelei Linklater
Accordion Player: Glover Gill
Violin Player: Lara Hicks
Viola Player: Ames Asbell
Viola Player: Leigh Mahoney
Cello Player: Sara Nelson
Piano Player: Jeanine Attaway
Bass Player: Erik Grostic
Boat Car Guy: Bill Wise
Philosophy Professor: Robert C Solomon
Herself: Kim Krizan
Shape-Shifting Man: Eamonn Healy
Burning Man: JC Shakespeare
Jesse: Ethan Hawke
Celine: Julie Delpy
Angry Man in Jail: Charles Gunning
Himself: David Sosa
Man in Car with P.A.: Alex Jones
Himself: Otto Hofmann
Himself: Aklilu Gebrewold
Coffee Shop Chatter: Carol Dawson
Coffee Shop Chatter: Lisa Moore
Chimpanzee: Steve Fitch
Himself: Louis Mackey
Man Writing a Novel at the Bar: Alex Nixon
Woman Talking to the Novel Writer: Violet Nichols
Man Talking to the Bartender: Steven Prince
Bartender: Ken Webster
Woman on TV: Mary McBay
Man on TV: Kregg A Foote
Man with the Long Hair: Jason T Hodge
Himself: Guy Forsyth
Guy Talking about Turning the Light on in Dreams: John Christensen
Himself: Caveh Zahedi
Man Talking to Caveh: David Jewell
One of Four Men: Adam Goldberg
One of Four Men: Nicky Katt
One of Four Men: E Jason Liebrecht
One of Four Men: Brent Green
Man on the Lamppost: RC Whittaker
Mr. Debord: Hymie Samuelson
Man on the Train: David Martinez
Young Disappearing Guy: Ryan Power
Soap Opera Woman: Tiana Hux
Himself: Speed Levitch
Goatee Man: Steve Brudniak
Friendly Girl: Marta Banda
Interviewed on television: Steven Soderbergh
Old Man: Charles Murdock
Quiet Woman at Restaurant: Mona Lee
Older Artist in the Park: Edith Mannix
Old Woman Sitting for a Portrait: Bess Cox
Kierkegaard Disciple: Louis Black
Pinball Playing Man/Man on Back of Boat: Richard Linklater
Goth Girl: Kierstin Cunnington (uncredited)
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.