MOVIES THAT DON’T SUCK: ‘Waking Life’ is the film of your dreams (ha)

The worst part of writing this blog is choosing which movie to write about.

There’s really no good way for the process to go down. For things to run smoothly, I’ll have needed to pick something early (ha) and that something must not suck. Because I tend to push everything until the last minute, whether or not the movie doesn’t suck enough to be written about is always a last-minute gamble. If it does not reach the critical mass of unsuck, then I must watch another movie. At that point, I’m frustrated because I’ve spent four hours on two pages of text that 50 people will read – that’s not even counting the time spent browsing Netflix.

Consequently I’m eternally grateful when someone suggests a movie to me. At least that way I’m guaranteed to be saved from that last bit. This time, my savior is Andy Cunningham, art teacher/artist extraordinaire.

The film, entitled “Waking Life,” is pretty much the kind of film you would expect to be recommended by an art teacher. Its animation is gorgeous, its plot philosophical and its ending – no, its entire plot –  open to interpretation.

It’s a David Linklater film, and if you know him, you’ll know that his filmography is a mixed bag. How somebody could make “Before Sunset” and then go on to do “Bad News Bears” mystifies me.

In terms of other films under the Linklater umbrella, “Waking Life” is a lot like “Slacker” in that it’s mostly a series of conversations.

“Waking Life”‘s whole “deal” is that you can never be sure whether the main character is dreaming or not. Personally, I’d like to believe that he’s never not dreaming.

There’s one scene (don’t mind the spoilers, as there isn’t really a plot) in which a man talks about how humans are theorized to enter a dreamlike state just before they die and of the possibly infinite amount of time that could exist in that small moment.

At the beginning of the film, the nameless main character (Wiley Wiggins) is hit by a car. Perhaps the dream starts there. Again, it’s hard to say as even that segment has dreamlike qualities.

Like most dreams, each scene starts without any lead-up. The characters are there, and they are talking. Nothing comes before; nothing comes after.

Similarly, the movie jumps from place to place. One moment we are in someone’s house hearing a woman talk with the main character (who remains nameless) about the efficacy of words to communicate feelings, and the next we are in a coffeehouse hearing a philosopher (if we are correct in that assumption) talk about how rapid increases in technology will bring about new “evolutionary paradigms” –  whatever that means.

What interests me about “Waking Life” is that I always felt that I was on the edge of hating it and writing it off as a 90-minute long stretch of psychological drivel – but I didn’t. This may just be because I’m only a high schooler, but a lot of the stuff is nonsense. Even the main character tells us so. However, the nonsense is so interesting and flows so beautifully that the listener is forced to ponder it to its fullest.

While the writing undoubtedly makes “Waking Life,” the animation is superb.

Motion capture may catch a lot of flack for being the lazy man’s route.This is not one of those times. While it’s true that the animations are drawn over the motions of real actors, the animation is so nice to look at that it hardly makes a difference.

Though not always as intense as the scene described above, the shifting of form is present throughout the film. Outlines blur and flicker, backgrounds jiggle around as if there were an earthquake and people never seem to look quite like they did a few seconds before.

While these qualities are mostly represented throughout the film, another constantly changing aspect is the way things are colored. Sometimes people are a veritable palette, their “blue” shirts awash with the various shades blended into each other. At other times it looks like somebody used a paint bucket tool on Photoshop to make every area one specific color.  All of this contributes to the feeling that the world we are seeing isn’t static, but a constantly shifting, erratic dreamscape.

However, I will say that the animation style is certainly jarring at the start of the film and can sometimes lead to an upset stomach if you watch it closely. I distinctly remember one scene where the camera was coasting over rooftops. The low frame rate made an otherwise beautiful picture uncomfortable to watch.

Other than that, “Waking Life” is a great film. Lesson learned:  next time an art teacher gives you a DVD, take it.

—By Grant Miner

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