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USA 2001
Directed by
Richard Linklater
100 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

Waking Life

Synopsis: A young fellow (Wiley Wiggins) meets dozens of characters in a dream he is unable to wake up from, or is he dead?

I happened to notice that Adrian Martin in The Age had observed that Jim Schembri of EG had given this film 5 stars whilst David Stratton in The Australian had given it 1. Martin recommended that the reader make up his or her own mind. So I decided to see it, not to make up my own mind (the demographics of readership and my familiarity with Linklater's earlier Dazed and Confused (1993) giving me a pretty good idea of where I would bring it in) but rather to see if I could see why these two reviewers rated (or slated) it as they did. So here's my conclusion.

Stratton would have been relentlessly bored by the lack of character and plot development, the self-satisfied pop psychological, academic and New Age prattling and a full-length animation feature would not have been much to his liking. Schembri (who claims this to be "a dazzling, rhapsodic modern classic…") was either on mescalin or in the pay of the distributors. Martin (who gives this 3 and a half stars out of 5) gets it right when he says that it "captures a youthfully naive state of gasbagging about all things existential". He considerably overstates its merits when he describes it as "intriguing".

Whilst there are moments when it suggests that something original or insightful is going to develop, Waking Life is little more than a concatenation of dudes, male and female, of various bohemic stripe indulging in the time-honoured tradition of bootlessly speculating on the meaning of life, wrapped in a state-of-the-art animation (called rotoscoping according to the promotional poster, a technique which separates the visual elements and puts them in continuous motion). The problem is that for all his graphical embellishment (or more probably as constant motion is visually tiring, because of it), Linklater does not transcend his raw material. The shortcomings perhaps would have been less insistent if this had been a short film of say, 20 mins but as full-length feature it goes on and on and on. To value this you'd have to find the content of interest (hence the undergraduate appeal). Like Stratton, I was bored witless. In fact this was the most purgatorial film-going experience I've have had since Chris Smith's 1999 American Movie, another film which managed to gain much critical kudos amongst would-be hipster reviewers. If you liked that film, Waking Life may well please.




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