Three words: deepest cartoon ever. I do not recommend seeing this movie after taking psychedelic drugs. This movie is a psychedelic drug.
Richard Linklater (of DAZED AND CONFUSED and SLACKERS fame) wrote and directed the film, which features rotoscoping, an animation technique that superimposes cartoon-like images onto live-action digital footage. For laypersons like us, it can be thought of as painting on movies. A different artist handles each character, giving the film a wild, dreamlike quality.
Hereís where you would typically expect a captivating yet not-too-revealing plot synopsis. WAKING LIFE contains only nameless characters and surreal scenery, but here goes. The central character, a young man (Wiggins), walks around town, shifting seamlessly from scene to scene, conversing with a slew of people who very much like to hear themselves talk (Hawke, Delpy, Katt, Levitch, AtheronÖ this list goes on; in fact there are a whopping 56 cast members in all). Sometimes he interacts with them, sometimes not. Thatís it. Who needs a plot?
Honestly, I hated it at first. The animation style made me dizzy, and I glazed over at the lengthy monologues by one unidentified character after another. I caught myself yawning even when Ethan Hawke (who is still cute as a cartoon, by the way) was on screen. What the hell was Linklater thinking? I wondered. This was about as far from DAZED AND CONFUSED as it gets. Except that I was feeling rather dazed and confused myself.
At one point, early on, a former professor of mine (David Sosa) appears on screen. No kidding! The film was shot mostly in Austin, Linklaterís stomping ground, where I also happen to live. I began to notice animated shots that loosely resemble the Texas state capitol, my neighborhood coffee shop and a downtown cigar bar. My professorís role as a philosopher speaking to our protagonist about topics such as the existence of free will and the God-vs.-science conundrum only added to my bewilderment and gave me a bizarre flashback to Intro. Philosophy.
But then it happens. I get used to it. Furthermore, I like it. What once was trying way too hard to be way too deep suddenly turns into a provocative, postmodern masterpiece.
Wiggins, the only actor present consistently throughout the movie, is convincing as a young adult lost in this peculiar town where the line between dreams and reality is blurred beyond recognition. Heís come a long way from the annoying freshman who got his ass kicked in DAZED AND CONFUSED.
Most of the supporting cast members arenít actors by trade, but rather locals of New York and Austin either discovered by or previously known to the filmmakers. Still, they are excellent. The dialogue does seem contrived occasionally, but you learn to look past it about halfway through the movie.
WAKING LIFE is the most creative thing Iíve seen in a long time. On the whole, it morphs from frustratingly dense to refreshingly, uniquely dense. Youíd seriously have to see this movie nine times before you could possibly begin to absorb everything. Definitely not recommended if youíre not in the mood to ponder life, death and everything in between. (ZOOLANDER is in the auditorium next door in that case.)
This review is exceedingly esoteric because WAKING LIFE is exceedingly esoteric. And clever and weird and trippy and thought-provoking. Youíll understand when you see it. So go see it.