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Movie Reviews

Staying Awake. Posted on 10/31/2001.

If the film Waking Life has a target market, it's very small, and I'm a charter member of it. More than anything else, the film is a visual thoughtwander--a series of tenuously-connected ramblings on Big Ideas such as perception, memory, human evolution, the nature of cinema, etc. etc. It utilizes a new technology to fuck with film form and create something pretty distinct from anything that's gone before it, and which allows the film to work on a couple of layers simultaneously--the words provide the grounding of ideas, and the animated visuals serve to comment on the text, which, when successful, leads to a synthesis greater than what was possible through only one or the other.

There's pretty much no narrative to speak of, which means extra effort is required to keep focused on the action. Sitting in a dark theater, listening to the drone of voices (there's a lot of talking in the flick), I was often tempted to nod off, not because I was bored, but just because it all felt so comfortable.

The movie succeeds to varying degrees depending on the scenario. I was drawn to the more patently surreal aspects, such as the chimpanzee, or the animated depictions of absurdity in the Free Will section. The film's weakest elements are the warmed over pop philosophies, and probably the single most trying scene is the bedroom exchange between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, blathering uninterestingly about dreams while the visuals remain remarkably uninspired--it smacked of a gimmick to get BEFORE SUNRISE fans into the theater more than anything else. My favorite text + art combo was the "ants" discussion, where a woman challenges Our Protagonist to not just be an ant, interacting with others in highly programmed ways, but to let his Human shine through--this scene was depicted in Divya Srinivasan's flat, dark, rich melancholic style, and the combination worked beautifully. (For more on Divya, visit her website, and read this little feature on her.)

Anyway, you should have the sense by now that peterme readers are eminently suited to Waking Life, so get on out there and see it.

4 comments so far. Add a comment.

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I really dig reading any of Peter's movie reviews... he has this really cool voice in his writing talking about a movie and highlighting certain aspects of it.... and he happens to like a movie I love called Notorious which just got the Criterion treatment on DVD... I imagine Peter is the kind you could be gathered around some diner late at night and Peter could talk about a movie in a way that would bring out the movie in a light you never saw it in... requiring you to have to rewatch the movie and experience in a completely new way... thanks to what Peter had said... even so far as to say something about a movie like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Waking Life is definitely a movie suited for readers of this site... probably the best animated movie I've seen since Iron Giant... and a movie like Quiller Memorandum that you either get or feel like your watching Rambo Pt. 4 starring Dick Clark playing Stallone's part as though w/ the twist he is now a millionaire fed up with pop music who isn't going to take it anymore. A movie like Waking Life takes us through a journey through life, systems, thoughts, connections, chance, fate... much the same way some of us wander around the Internet. If you could take some of the best blogs out there and make a movie based on what is posted on them... and create an arc that gels everything together... you get a movie like Waking Life... minus the cut and pastes of song lyrics and embarassing confessions of people who say they proposed to their girlfriend while playing a Rod Stewart song.
Posted by MonkeyKungFu @ 11/01/2001 07:31 AM PST [link to this comment]

I've been a big fan of Richard Linklater since _Slackers_ and I'm quite anxious to see what he does with the mixing of mediums. That said, the film will probably premiere in Charlotte in about 6 months, if the timing of Hedwig & the Angry Inch is any indication. Sigh.

Basically unrelated, but I'll throw it out there--to me Before Sunrise is to Richard Linklater as Jerry McGuire is to Cameron Crowe; an entertaining movie, but somehow out of place when taken with his other films; maybe a little to slick or pat...perhaps too sentimental. (Disconcerting sighting: saw Julie Delpy on ER last night.)
Posted by samantha bailey @ 11/02/2001 03:13 PM PST [link to this comment]

I have to put in an opposing view.

I also was falling asleep in the middle of the movie and it was because I was bored. The movie was beautiful to watch but it had no soul. The "dialogue" was an endless series of rants by characters who each had their own particular smugness - not unlike the drone of taxi drivers or barflies - intent on inflicting you with their own infallible pet theory.

Only if the film is viewed (and I dont think this is what Linklater was pursuing) as a subtle commentary on the ambiguities of everyday discourse and the frustrating search for truth and meaning - that is the limits of oral and visual language - only then does it stand up as a film and not mere candy.

I went to go see this with a friend who was awed by the movie and particularly awed by the parts he did not completely understand. This is not new. We are surrounded everyday by people who blather on in meaningless jargon and leave others feeling that, if they were only smarter they would be able to understand. With a background in physics and in art theory, I came away no more enlightened. Just pedantic preachy sermons. Words. Mere words.

When I read blogs I read about people on a voyage of self-discovery. In the movie, everyone but the protagonist has already seemingly arrived.

ps. i'd like to see a movie based on blogs, on people's lives and concerns and self-doubts. It would be much more interesting.
Posted by capodistria @ 11/03/2001 10:11 PM PST [link to this comment]

This is one of those movies that tells you a lot about people. If they don't get it they way you do, you'll come away with a subtle and perhaps disappointing perspective on them. Much like American Beauty.

I 'get' this movie, Waking Life.
Posted by Bill Kearney @ 11/07/2001 03:25 AM PST [link to this comment]

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