33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
A brave new step for animation`,
This review is from: Waking Life [DVD]  (DVD)
Who says animation should just be for kids? Well, according to recent evidence, not many people actually do. There have been animated adult movies for a while (and I ain't talking Fritz The Cat), but none of them really made a huge impact. So when, exactly, did animation for adults and children take-off, big time?
Anime has been around for a while, but only really has a cult following. Arguably, it was with The Simpsons that animators realised that animation could be for adults and children too. Then came South Park and Beavis & Butthead, two teenage animated series that spun off decent movies. Disney incorporated more mature jokes into Aladdin and Toy Story, and Dreamworks did the same with Antz and Shrek.
And now comes an animated film mainly for adults; one that does not play for gags; and one that not only transcends the animated label, but transcends film itself.
Richard Linklater's Waking Life was first filmed, on a pretty tight budget, with regular digital cameras, and then injected with animation via computers before being transferred to film. This gives the animators the ability to add real movement and detail to the movie. I felt, in fact, that although this does not look realistic in the way that, say, Toy Story 2 looked realistic, it is probably the most REAL animated film I have ever seen. By making the film animated it gave it a unique feel and also gave the filmmakers the ability to play with special effects without spending millions (for instance the main character flying, which he does a few times).
The main character in question is played by Wiley Wiggins, whom you may recognise from Linklater's Dazed And Confused. He remains nameless, and the film follows him on what may or may not be a lucid dream (a dream that can be controlled, for those of you who did not see Vanilla Sky), listening to and making conversations with a host of interesting characters. These are the same people that you pass every time you go anywhere; the same ones you will never see again or learn anything about. So why don't we talk to people like that? Why don't we learn their opinions and theories? Wouldn't that make humans fill their full potential, rather than just mumbling about the weather and how late the buses are? Waking Life puts this down to one of two things: either fear or laziness.
We never learn which parts of this are real and which are in the head of the nameless dreamer. Perhaps he is, as Ethan Hawke brings up in his scene, dying and the whole film is set in the few minutes between when his body dies and when his mind dies. Remember a "second of dream consciousness is infinitely longer than a waking second". Maybe this is all in his head after he is hit, near the start of the film, by a car and he has slipped into a coma. Or maybe the whole film is a dream.
It was in the same moment that I realised that it did not matter whether he is dreaming or not that another question popped into my mind: what really is the difference between dreams and reality? The Matrix touched upon this subject and I wish it went deeper into it. Often in dreams you do something irrational or something inexplicable happens which leads you to think "hey, am I dreaming?" But how often do you think that when you are actually awake?
The film plays like a dream, yes, but no more like a dream than any movie. Dreams and movies are similar, they are both escapism and in both cases we are looking on at something that is not actually happening. As an audience we are staring at a white screen with light shone onto it in such a way images are formed. When we dream we are lying asleep, with our eyes closed, yet images form in our heads.
The movie, though, is about much more than merely dreams. It is about everything Richard Linklater thought about as he wrote the screenplay. It is like sitting down next to a stranger at a bus stop and, instead of discussing how late the buses are, discussing the meaning of life. Not rushing so as you can cover everything, just moving, as conversations do, from one subject to another and taking time on the things that are interesting. Not all of the people in the movie agree entirely (which is to say, they do not exactly disagree) but they care about everyone else's opinions.
Some may call the movie pretentious. Maybe so, you could say the same about 2001: A Space Odyssey or Apocalypse Now. To call the movie "quirky" would probably be a bigger insult to Linklater, as it not only tells nothing about the movie, but it labels it when it really should not be labelled at all.
I found myself actually thinking in a different way about things as I left the cinema after seeing this movie (or perhaps "experiencing" would be a better word), and that is about the highest praise I can give a movie. The film would throw a point at me that would start me down a train of thought, and before I knew it I had missed a few minutes - I wanted to watch parts again, and I am sure I will. I feel this movie has a genuinely mind-expanding effect, and it will make you talk, think and, in some cases, change. The cinema screen becomes a window to a world that may have immediately appeared different to our world, but on closer inspection resembled ours in greater detail than many live feature films do. I walked out of the cinema feeling both refreshed and intrigued, thinking about things that had never crossed my mind before. This reminded me why I love the movies.