Main      Site Guide    
At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Waking Life (2001)



Reviews and Comments

This is one of the most cerebral animated movies you'll ever see. It's done in a fluid, evolving style, most or all of it rotoscoping of live footage but with fluctuating levels of realism. The film has no story to speak of, rather a stream of consciousness journey in and out of different discussions with different characters in different environments. It's extraordinarily dreamlike, except that dreams aren't usually this eloquent and thoughtful. Pretty much the entire movie consists of philosophical ramblings about what the world is like and why we're here. It's not for everyone, but if you like, say, Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, this will probably be up your alley, too.

The main character is primarily a listener. He listens to all these people talking and gradually becomes aware that this doesn't quite feel right. But that awareness fluctuates over the course of the film. In one particularly lucid moment, he even recognizes that his awareness is fluctuating. He wonders if he is dreaming. Someone tells him how he can test that theory -- amidst lengthy asides on the nature of dreams and existence, of course. Some key revelations seem to occur at the end to explain what's really happening, but I'm not sure they really do. But that's kind of the point. Answers seldom complete our understanding; they merely lead to further questions.

What does Waking Life really mean? Perhaps the clue is in the title. Whether this is a dream or not, it can be seen as a picture of life when we're awake. Our awareness of the larger questions of the universe is always in flux. Sometimes we're wondering what we're doing here and taking part in that investigation, and other times we're merely in the presence of other people's ideas. I'm not convinced this is necessarily what the filmmakers intended, but it doesn't matter: this is the kind of film that leaves us free to impress our own thoughts upon it. Come to think of it, it's a film about that very freedom.