Waking Life (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Richard Linklater
viewed: 05/11/02

Richard Linklater’s Waking Life is pretty close to a cinematic epiphany, maybe as close to an epiphany as a feature film has come in some time. This is particularly so in regards to digital animation and cinema. And even more specifically, for feature length digitally animated film.

I know that is parsing it down pretty fine.

This film wouldn’t seem nearly so radical in a short film format. Short films, being so much cheaper to produce, are of a medium that lies wide open to experimentation, and in short film format, this might be an interesting film, but hardly as significant.

The 2-D digital animation in Waking Life is unique, executed in a proprietary software designed by the film’s lead animator, Bob Sabiston(?). The style is a loose, hallucinogenic form of rotoscoping, capturing some naturalized movement but not absolutely adhering to it.

Scenes are animated by numerous artists, each scene by a different artist, all adhering to simple pallette rules (using only colors naturally occuring in the original footage). Because the animators are tracing digitally photographed images, naturalism is a rare priority. Rather, images sway between impressionist, expressionist, and surrealist styles. The animation riffs on the footage and dialogue in a free-form jazz acid trip.

At this point in time, the use of digital animation technology to render the photographic in a flatter, two-dimensional form seems a radical departure from the direction of most digital animation. The Rotoshop software transforms the “classic” animation technique itself into something new and fresh.

The film is a walking, talking, philosophically pontificating dream. Wiley Wiggins’ animated persona walks from place to place, encountering a slough of people/characters that analyze dreams, life, death, & philosophy in varyingly deep or crazed fashions. This could be utterly pretentious, but the animation transforms the scenes, elevates them. The narrative, if cohesive enough to call narrative, is Slacker-like, but somehow seems much more profound.

This is easily one of the most interesting films I have seen in a long time.