waking life

exclusive feature
The Liberator Magazine 3.4 #8, 2004


It's a cartoon, yes, but Waking Life (Fox Searchlight) is not just. This is a very mature, very intellectual film about things even the greatest human minds have struggled to comprehend and conclude. But it's not just that either.

Do you remember what it was like watching cartoons? Maybe you still watch them. The art of animation has a way of communicating anything--even the most complex, grown-up concepts--in a package of playfulness. Looking at the bug-eyed dude on the cover of the movie box, you may pass this up in the rental store, dismissing it as being a little too fun. But take a risk and you'll be rewarded with this eclectic, fascinating film that will have you remembering its one-liners like proverbs, for months (maybe years) to come.

The film follows a young man through what seem to be his typical days. Only, unlike most of us, he seems always to be running randomly into someone with some wise or insightful words for him. And so he'll take some time out, open his mind and take in whatever it is that the respective speaker box has to offer. The story does focus on this character but does delve into the lives of others without sacrificing the depth of the story telling. The story doesn’t go anywhere halfheartedly; everywhere it goes it pays its dues with very creative and crafty old fashioned story telling. The kind that changes every time you hear it. This is a film of people, of life and what happens when we focus the microscope on the things we take for granted; the words, the sights, the people. Told in a very lucid manner, the film reminds me of The Animatrix, the animated companion to the popular trilogy that showed (at least with the first one) that mainstream America could be challenged to think at the movies and enjoy it; mentally and artistically fresh.

One of the highlights of the film is its innovative animation. Several illustrators were used, which isn’t nothing new. But within one scene in Waking Life you'll at times see three or four different styles of art, all belonging to different artists. Each screen change has the potential to transform the entire mode of the scene with the introduction of a different animation style. One technique that truly stands out, both because of its familiarity to real life and because of its strangeness, is a special process that involves actually filming a scene and then going back and painting in the illustrations over the actual film.

It’s the weirdness of the animation, along with the weirdness of some of the characters' personalities that make for such an amazing film--the dialogue is deep, but it's hard to get over the fact that it's coming from these crazy cartoon characters. It all serves the film well however; it refuses to relegate itself to the doldrums of some university professor's library by bringing a playful energy that allows the moviegoer to actually enjoy thinking along the same paths of the people in the screen.

Waking Life has been to the Sundance Film Festival, been to New York, Venice, and Toronto, but is by no means an exclusive film, although it will surely be labeled so. It is for the explorer. It will tickle your inner child, as they call it. It will cause you to lean forward, rewind, even restart. It’s a film that you want in your collection for when you're by yourself and for when your friends and family come through. It will make you think. But it won't hurt your head, trust.

Submissions: scripts at liberatormagazine.com

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