Waking Life Review

There’s a scene in Waking Life where Julie Delpy is lying in bed next to Ethan Hawke and tells him how she often has the perspective of an old woman who is about to die. She said, “I heard that Tim Leary said as he was dying that he was looking forward to the moment when his body was dead but his brain was still alive. You know they say that there’s still six to twelve minutes of brain activity after everything else is shutdown. And a second of dream consciousness, right, well, that’s infinitely longer than a waking second. You know what I’m saying?”

In that moment Julie Delpy answers the question that the audience has been thinking since the movie began, “Is Wiley Wiggins alive or is he dead?” According to Julie Delpy, although she wasn’t directing her words at Wiley Wiggins, his body is dead, but his mind is still awake before it shuts down. However, this is only the crux of the film, the rest of which consists of philosophical discussions ranging from intellectuals, philosophers, and crackpots using rotoscoping animation.

The film begins with Dazed and Confused’s Wiley Wiggins hitching a ride on a boat/car and getting dropped of at a random location. He sees a sign that reads “look right” and gets hit by a car. This is a topic that is later brought up in the film, questioning whether our lives are determined by free will or destiny. Wiley’s death can be interpreted as a mixture of both, in a way it was his destiny to get dropped off at that exact location at that exact moment and see a sign telling him to look right, but on the other hand it was his choice to follow through with the instructions. In the first half of the film Wiley Wiggins is an observer, merely floating around through philosophical discussions and listening to characters telling stories, passive in his own dream. However, there are moments when the dreams get interrupted to incoherent sketches, from a man screaming in a jail cell to a guy riding in a car screaming for freedom of speech. This could suggest that Wiley Wiggins is beginning to gain consciousness of his dream state; he feels trapped in it like he’s in a prison cell, screaming for his freedom. In the second half he begins to question whether he is in a dream and why so many philosophers are appearing, which he calls the “dream of all dreams”. He questions how he is able to come up with all these ideas that he ordinarily wouldn’t be able to form in his relative state of mind. For example, when a woman is telling him about her idea for a soap opera he questions how he could have come up with that or not, saying that the idea seemed to transmit out of him externally.

As a huge fan of Richard Linklater I loved Waking Life, but even people who ever never seen a Richard Linklater film before would enjoy it as well because his films are so diverse from one another. It was created to seem like a dream, with the characters changing sizes and clothes throughout the movie, without being surrealistic. People often search for dreams to gain meaning, a door could be a new discovery for the day or a river could mean distancing yourself from someone, but Richard Linklater approaches dreams completely opposite: What if all the answers were laid out for us with no hidden meaning? As Wiley Wiggins floats from dream to dream he gains further knowledge for his next life, the “dream of all dreams” into his afterlife. Overall this is a film that will make you think, question your life, and be thankful for your existence.

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