Waking Life

on October 19, 2001 by Annlee Ellingson
   Held together by the barest of narratives--the protagonist comes to realize that he's in a never-ending dream and may even be dead--writer-director Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" is, on paper, a string of conversations among unrelated characters about life's weightiest concepts: existentialism versus post-modernism; what happens in the six to 12 minutes of brain activity before one actually dies; instincts as behaviors learned through reincarnation and telepathically shared experiences; science versus God and what is free will; Bazan's film theory, etc. On celluloid, though, it's a work of art.

   Initially shot with live actors on digital film and edited into a final version, "Waking Life" was then reinterpreted by artists individually assigned to animate the film's characters using an interpolated rotoscoping technique, specially designed for the project, that essentially paints over the original image. The result is fluid, impressionistic drawings--eyes float off heads, backgrounds shift constantly--that feels unexpectedly real and ultimately adds to the exchanges taking place, literally illustrating what is being said in the scene.

   Not destined for the mainstream--nor probably intended for it--"Waking Life" is an interesting, entertaining experiment in animation for those who have the privilege of seeing it. Voiced by Wiley Wiggins. Directed and written by Richard Linklater. Produced by Anne Walker-McBay, Tommy Pallotta, Palmer West and Jonah Smith. A Fox Searchlight release. Animated. Not yet rated. Running time: 97 min

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