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Waking Life
Reviewed by Foo Sek Han
There are two things you have to put in mind before watching Waking Life: The first being this film may not be anyone's cup of tea, and the second is you have to be mentally prepared to some heavy listening and thinking. Even though Waking Life is essentially an animated film at core, it could also be one of the few films with the heaviest amount of dialogue in the whole course of 97 minutes. It is less a normal story than a progression of ideas and speeches, both philosophical and scientific, and often concentrate on the states of "consciousness" and "dreaming". In the opening scene alone (possibly the only scene where there is fewer than ten lines of dialogue) a young boy is given the fortune "Dream is Destiny", then finds his body floating, forcing him to cling to the handle of a car door nearby.

Story wise, the film focuses on its main character, a young man (Wiley Wiggins), who seems to be floating through an endless series of dreams among dreams in a landscape that can only be described as hallucinatory. The young person starts off the film by entering an unnamed city and getting picked up by a talkative man driving a convertible resembling a motorboat, then apparently struck down by a car after picking up a paper with the words "Look to your right" written on it. He quickly wakes up from this supposed-dream, and somewhat begins an unexplained crusade looking for people to listen to. At the course of finding these people he strives to wake up from this unending dream he found himself stuck at, and could only determine he was not awake by gazing at his alarm clock (where the digital numbers go haywire) or attempting to flick an electric light switch.

More important to the story is the characters that Wiley meets, listens to, and sometimes responds to. Without any prompt or preliminary they casually launch into speeches covering various philosophies on freedom, consciousness, the dreaming, people relationship, and other meaty subjects. At times the speakers themselves are whimsically animated to fit the topic they are speaking of, either sincerely or ironically. A pretentious philosopher is drawn to wave about like an aquarium image, while a calm speaker on the connection between biology and freedom has his own visual aids animated on his face. At other times, the main characters floats around and we are presented with various other characters talking without him present, for example a prison inmate threatening to torment his captors, and a chimpanzee in a lab coat deconstructing a film for a classroom of students.

Also important is the technique used to create this film. In order to create a version of CG (Computer Graphics) that does not aim to be as realistic as possible ala Shrek, Toy Story and the rest, Linklater and his crew developed a new complex process termed "interpolated rotoscoping". The invention of Bob Sabiston, the film's animation and art director, it involves shooting a real-life movie, then using said process to "paint" over the live-action footage, concentrating on every character and the backgrounds. In order to give the film its dreamlike quality the background swirls around in colour, where objects stay static in its place on film while the camera shakes like an Indie film usually does. The colours of characters change as they move into different lights and sometimes appear like pastel drawings. Images shiver, change light, and swim around as the main characters walks around the landscape.

Waking Life is a good film, but it is tough to push it on anyone, and most certainly not on those who still think John Woo is a genius. Watching feels like an unending dream and actually makes you think, with all the wonderful ideas present in the film.

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Rating: 4 Faeries
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater
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