Maybe Richard Linklater has to do this every decade or so. It was ten years ago, after all, that he made the world sit up and pay attention with “Slacker,” a shambling series of talky vignettes flying in loose formation. The acting wasn’t all that good, neither was the camerawork, but there was something there in the desperate way that its characters talked over, around, at and through each other. They jawed about life, politics, whether or not to give money to beggars and, of course, Madonna’s pap smear. Even if many of the little stories went nowhere, there was clearly something going on behind them.
Now, after a decade of making films that–as great as just about all of them were (oh, what “The Newton Boys” could have been…)–were much more conventional in story and scope, comes “Waking Life.” As you’ve all heard by now, what Linklater and the Detour Filmproduction crew did was shoot all their live action footage in Austin, then have an animator go over the shots with a process called rotoscoping. What this results in is a brightly-colored, watery look that feels like walking through an Impressionistic painting. It’s literally unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, a truely living and breathing work of art, even though, while the constantly-moving, ship-at-sea formlessness to the images could induce some “Blair Witch”-sickness in some viewers.
Like “Slacker,” “Waking Life” starts off with a twenty-something guy arriving in town and catching a ride. The guy is played by Wiley Wiggins, the kid from “Dazed and Confused,” and we follow him around as he floats (literally) in and out of a dreaming state. He takes part in and eavesdrops on conversations that invariably have some pretty heavy philosophical content. Everything from theories on lucid dreaming to arcane filmic ramblings by Bazin to a prisoner’s revenge fantasies are the subject of long, windy discourses here. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reteam here–probably the same characters from “Before Sunrise,” but it’s not for sure–and Linklater himself shows up as a pinball jockey with some interesting things to say about Philip K. Dick. In the same way that Scorsese came looping back around to many of the themes he introduced in “Mean Streets” with the slicker, more exciting and assured “GoodFellas,” Linklater uses his years of gained experience and the razzle-dazzle of his film’s look to revisit the restlessness of “Slacker.” Maybe he just needed to clear out his head of all these ideas and then he can get back to business. Either way, it’s stunning work.
If there is justice in this world, this is the movie that will get people talking again about the excitement of film. It’s like that old chestnut which says that humans only use ten percent of their available brain space. “Waking Life” takes a peek into that other ninety percent of the possibilities of the cinematic medium that nobody ever explores. Hopefully, others will follow.
Read the interview with “Waking Life” star and animator Wiley Wiggins in WILD WILEY WIGGINS>>>