This is a difficult movie for me to review, as you can't really pick out any specific acting performances or recall any vital scenes that push the plot or act as game changers. Waking Life is mostly about what's being said, be it through the words of the characters or the animation. For most people, this is going to be a take it or leave it type of movie... an almost all or nothing.
First thing you notice is the rotoscoping... it's as if we're watching a Tell-Tale game. This stylistic choice definitely pushes the dream like atmosphere. Thirty-one (31) animation artists were used to restyle the live footage that was shot. This gives us different, be it slight or drastic, views of the world and our protagonist. This is a big plus for me and really plays into the "It's all about what you do with the crayons you're given" statement we hear early on, and see quite literally throughout the movie.
The visuals, in general, are really entertaining to watch and are still quite different from how most films are presented to us. I'm sure plenty of people will say this movie would be (or is) much better on drugs.. but even so, it's quite impressive without. The rotoscoping and art on their own stand out as a positive.
Basically, what we're given is a series of monologues, with a few conversations, as the main character listens.. at least for the first half or so of the film. We cover a wide range of philosophical issues. they are all presented with and with enough uncertainty in the tone and look to make the view think, and not just accept whatever each person says or believes.
What the main character sees and experiences is usually highlighted by the use of certain colors, shades and artwork or by the setting in general. He later becomes involved in the conversations as he steadily reaches the realization that all of this has been, and still is, a dream. We, the viewers, are given every chance to realize this due to the floating objects, moving backgrounds and general appearance of everything... yet still we follow him on his philosophical journey. The self-realization is ultimate goal... the separation, if any, between the dream and this waking life.
There are some lines and visuals that stood out to me for whatever reason, so I'll hit on a couple of those.
One of the first people we encounter is the car-boat driver. He describes his ride, and life, as 'see-worthy.' It's his way of remaining 'in a state of constant departure while always arriving.'
I think this was a good, and light, start to things.. and who doesn't like a good pun?
One of my favorite portions was the anger man screaming through his megaphone while driving. Watching him turn colors.. red as he became angrier, black/grey as he spoke of slavery, purple as his rant went on... all while nobody around him could possibly hear his message as he's constantly on the move, jumping from thought to thought.
I thought it was a key point that the first bit the main character isn't directly listening to is the couple in bed.. in which they're talking about everybody being telepathically connected.... as if that's how the protagonist is seeing/hearing this conversation.
The conversation between the two women, as one says "I'm closer to the end of my life than I've ever been." This instantly made me think of Mitch Hedberg pointing out how ridiculous it actually is to say, "this is a picture of me when I was younger." Then, however, they jump right into the Thesues' ship argument and whether we're even at all the same people we once were. Which is all the more interesting in the realm of a dream, or an existence of an instant that is stretched out within a dream.
But, my point isn't to get philosophical here.
One of my favorite lines comes in the final conversation (which is actually Linklater playing the pinball): "I'm not saying you don't know what you're talking about, but I don't know what you're talking about." Which is a lead into that self realization and "how do you really wake up?"
In the end, the philosophy jargon is either going to keep you listening and thinking or it's going to push you away. I think this is where the movie holds some negative. There isn't much in the way of light banter or humor to break up the constant down pour of each character's thoughts. Being in his dreams, I think it would have been okay and welcomed to see something a bit out there in terms of humor and absurdness... and it could have come before he realized he was stuck in a dream or even after when he started actively participating. I mean, when you're in that lucid state... why not take advantage and have fun. Just like the light switch guy said, right?
The only real constant throughout the movie is Wiley Wiggins, playing our protagonist. It's difficult to really judge his performance as he was always covered up by the animation. That said, I think his tempo and tone were great whenever he was speaking, fitting to whatever conversation he was in. We also see a few familiar faces throughout... such as Ethan Hawke and Adam Goldberg. There were also multiple non-actors... writes and thinkers essentially playing themselves.
I first watched Waking Life a good decade or so ago.. when I was much more into reading my philosophy books and thinking about any and everything. It's interesting to think about how we see and think about those topics at different points in our lives... or for some, stop thinking or caring about them all together. For me, it was a pleasant re-watch with a different view.
I'm sure I could ramble about a lot of what is said and shown here, but I'll wrap this up and get to the grade! Waking Life a movie I could see myself putting in every now and then when I'm in a mood for the material. It's definitely not a movie for the masses, but is really well done for what it is. If you don't appreciate the philosophy, you're stuck with just the art... which while outstanding, won't likely make it a good movie for you. It would have definitely been nice to see some humor and fun thrown in. So, it's not perfect, but it's still a great piece of work for me, A-