A Life Spent Awake

If movies can be frustrating in their dispiriting lack of ideas, it is outright disarming to come across one that's built and composed on only thought and imagination. In Waking Life, Austin auteur Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused) delivers a veritable chin-scratcher that swaps dialogue for monologues, characters for impromptu and often unlikely lecturers, and plot for what at first appears deceptively to be a montage of freshman-year pseudo-intellectual yammering. It's all more headily arresting than you'd expect, with nearly 100 minutes of uninterrupted talk fleeting by in a breathless, dizzying rush that never actually leaves the couch.

The very look of the film is exhilarating, as it employs cutting-edge animation techniques that combine real film footage with computer and hand-drawn coloration. The result is mesmerizing: planar space that literally breathes and shimmering facial features revealing the speaker's inner life with a lucidity that is at times beautiful, haunting and everything in between.

But the ideas themselves are the real lifeblood, and they flow in an unbroken pulse from existentialist ruminations, to New Agey pontification, to explosive paranoiac angst and much more--without qualification. Upon first viewing, it is all too rapid to separate the shallow from the deep, the whimsical from the serious. But in a way, this confounding jumble is the point. The narrative structure--and there is one, although it is so insubstantial as to dissipate upon inspection--gradually strips away any conditioned response to the flood of stimuli. Then, out of the heavy fog of half-formed and open-ended thoughts, the very subconscious of our modern age is revealed, with all its contradictions, undecidables and unknowables. Groundbreaking, heady and provocative.


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