A stupendous film written and directed by Richard Linklater.

In telling about this film, one stops. Thinks, starts to speak stops again. In describing it, first word we would reach for is surreal. This is most important. As well, we have the words possibilities, mind trip, and fluid perception.

“Waking Life” is filmed in a brand new way, superimposing digital animation on live-action digital video. The resulting film is a brightly colored cartoon world where everything seems to be in constant flux. No image is static, they are constantly rippling and heaving. The visual movement suggests that the universe and all matter are constantly changing, a fable-like metaphor for open-ended perception, and the application of technique is brilliant. Here is where you apply the first adjective. Surreal, surreal, surreal. Terrific.

Right at the beginning we are faced with a haunting image of a boy, about nine years old. Striped T-shirt, he takes hold of the car door handle as his body begins to float out from under him. Tugged by some mysterious force into the atmosphere, he clings tightly, resisting, refusing to drift away. This is the scene that fades us into the film proper.

Which is the most universal human characteristic, fear or laziness?*

So we talk about plot, or story line, or narrative. At the center of all this dazzling visual activity we have an unnamed fellow (played by Wiley Wiggins) who wakes up in a dream, who spends most of the film in a dream-state. This laid-back fellow seems to be a college student who is meandering through life accumulating information without heading towards a goal. The information is gathered from a series of interactions with seemingly random people; students, teachers, street people and television personalities. The film merges from one scene to the next by a mere shimmering of screen colors or by zooming in for a close-up and coming through a face into another location, where our nameless protagonist keeps ambling through this fluidity. It is only midway in his circuitous journey that he realizes that every time he thinks he has awakened, he has only entered another chapter of an ongoing dream. Hence, he is never quite sure whether he is conscious or not, never sure whether the people he is talking to are real, or imagined.

Your life is yours to create.*

Chapter after chapter, our nameless guy is listening. What is gathered is a hodge-podge of life theories and human consciousness. Some make sense, some are too intellectual or scientific to follow properly, some are totally ludicrous. Sources offered range from Andre Bazin to Philip K. Dick to Jean-Paul Sartre. Not all of theories fit together without contradiction, not all of them quite answer any or everything. Mostly what we are offered are questions, not conclusions. Not all encounters in the film were scripted – some were improvised and hence what Linklater has given us is extremely fluid and open-ended. He creates a dialogue with us, the viewers, in which we interweave our own experiences into our interpretation of the realities shown. I told you we would need the words possibilities, speculations and fluid perception.

There's only one instant, and it's right now, and it's eternity.*

Okay. I will tell you what: It is easy to imagine watching Linklater’s movie stoned, is easy to imagine it would be a good experience. It is also tempting, while watching it, to sit back and let it all flow right over you, to let what-if what-if what-if flow to a cumulative impact that the New York Times calls ‘a stoned-out Big Bang of human thought’. It would be good, but it is even better to absorb it while fully attentive. The dialogue is such that is extremely flexible, dexterous; addresses difficult ideas without seeming overbearing. Appearances are deceiving; the cartoonish animation should only serve to heighten the significance of what we are told, to make each one more visually distinct from the other as well as to demonstrate the crazy patchwork of human experience. Let me tell you, it would not be a bad idea to see this movie twice, there is also subtle humor and humanity in there that should not be treated lightly.

But: But: Oh yes. You'd do well to remember the words of Linklater when he introduced the movie at the Sundance Film Festival. "How many of you out there are on drugs?" Linklater asked the audience. Several hands went up. "Good," he said. "This is for you. The rest of you, just bear with me."

And then - some of Linklater’s words regarding the first scene with the little boy, and further discussing his film, dreams and reality perception:

That is a very early memory of mine… I call it a memory, but obviously it took place in a dream state. When you're a little kid, you don't really make the distinction that clearly. I remember it very clearly because it was scary but kind of exhilarating — a sort of nongravity, upward pull away from what you felt the whole world was, but at the same time there was some force begging me to stay. As you get older, you build up a solid model of real versus unreal, and you start depreciating the unreal… The way a film works on a person's brain is very much like the way a dream unfolds. You sort of accept it, and you fall into it, yet you don't really — something holds you back… in`Waking Life'… the film becomes conscious of itself and … you become conscious of watching a film. It parallels the experience of waking up in a dream — when you become conscious that you're dreaming.


Written and directed by Richard Linklater.
Music score by Glover Gill, performed by Tosca Tango Orchestra
Running time: 99 minutes.
Rated R for profanity. Credited cast overview:

*Oh yeah, the italicized quotes are from the film.

An awful, pretentious piece of crap. When watching this film one cannot understand how it ever got made. About the only thing the movie has going for it is the beautiful rotoscoped animation (which isn't exactly a new technique). If you wish to watch talking head after talking head going through elementary philosophical concepts in a watered-down manner, this is the movie for you. I would liken it to sitting in at a coffee shop listening to Philosophy 100 students discussing their profound musings on life.

Really, it is that bad. Usually I enjoy movies that are offbeat or have a different way of telling the story. For example, I recently saw Mulholland Drive and loved it. But in Waking Life there simply is not a story at all. The entire movie is just babbling from people completely detached from reality. I felt like screaming at the screen every time another one of the talking heads made a sweeping generalization. I was also offended that Philip K. Dick was brought up in the movie's endless name-dropping. Dick is probably turning in his grave. His books, as this film, were often concerned with the nature of reality. But Dick was also a good storyteller. Even elementary school children know you're supposed to "show, not tell". In this movie, all we get is tell.

As previously mentioned, the only saving grace of Waking Life is the animation. It's as if the director knew the movie was awful so he had it done in rotoscoped animation as a Trojan horse. At times it's slightly amusing, when the things that the characters say show up in the animation. It doesn't happen nearly enough though, and the images are often way too literal. It's just a little chuckle here and there to keep you in the theater, thinking "maybe it'll get better".

My advice would be to stay away from this piece of tripe. Truly, the emperor wears no clothes.
"Waking Life" was a bizarre exploration into various attempts made at reaching a conclusive definition of the phenomenon of dreaming as well as addressing deeper ontological questions that has long since plagued mankind. The approaches taken in story-telling style and aesthetic format lent to the composition of a rather ethereal blend of ideas presented for the consumption of the audience.

The film had at its foundation a stream of consciousness narrative style. Though there appeared some semblance of a continuing story throughout the entirety of the piece, the series of events in the film transpired in not so much a logical or sequential fashion as they did through a cognitive progression of associations. Complex thoughts and concepts were presented to the viewer sometimes as lectures delivered by an expert in the related field but most often as casual conversations encountered by the protagonist or an anonymous voyeur. The portrayal of the near-constant barrage of intellectual discourse as commonplace everyday occurrences rendered the string of events in the storyline as surrealistic yet profound.

The adoption of animation as its format added a dream-like quality to the viewing experience, thus adding another dimension to the tale by making the story-telling medium itself similar to the very phenomenon under investigation. With its constantly shifting backdrop and whimsically cartoon-y peripheral animations, abstract ideas were made that much more concrete, being graphically depicted before the audience in an environment that was clearly not static and yet somehow cerebral at the same time. Couple this with the fact that more than a score of animators added their personal touch to the way the characters and scenery were visually represented and what is conveyed to the viewer is the message that identity may not be static but can still remain distinguishable.

The integration of the visual style with the stream of consciousness approach of the narrative combine to form a movie experience that compels the viewer to engulf himself in not only the questions that arise in the story but in the metaphysical environment those questions foster. Throughout the course of the movie, the question "Am I dreaming?" was constantly posed as a test against subjective reality. With the unconventional storytelling style, the dynamic animation approach, and the weighty discussions encountered, the viewer is left with the impression that he himself could have possibly slipped into a dream-state and is questioning the reality he finds himself in.

This is mostly directed at khayman's critique above, but I think his (misguided) opinions reflect some common mistakes about interpreting this work of art.

Waking Life is a very dangerous film to produce. It's also a very dangerous film to review. On one hand, Waking Life is a profoundly original, throught-provoking, well-produced, visually stunning movie. On the other hand, it is extremely easy, while watching it, to get lossed in all the philosophical masturbation going on.

It is crucially important that the viewer realize that there is more going on here than the speculatory ramblings of all the characters. The movie is not preaching, the characters in the movie are preaching, and the difference is one thing that makes this movie so good. One point it's trying to make about this is that philosophical bullshit sessions (PBS?) are very important to us in helping us determine who we are and what our relationship with others is.

It's also important to note that although these discourses can often be accurately described as sophomoric and only suitable for PHL 101 lecture topics, that also isn't the point. Some of the things the characters say are complete bullshit. Some things are unfounded, or illogical, or take references from dubious scientific studies wildly out of context. Some of them are explicit examples of foolish thinking, like the guy in prison or the ranting guy in the car. This does not make the movie bad, any more than the main character's blase "y'know, or somethin'" speech patterns makes the dialogue poor. Much of the content, such as the technological "neo-human" spiel and the moment-as-eternity ideas is so-called "real" philosophy, just not rigorously discussed or proved. These are open philosophical issues. And I think everyone should realize that rigorous philosophical discussion would NOT make a very entertaining movie.

The animation style is disturbing to some, but I found it very effective. For the record, rotoscoping is a very old technique for film effects (think lightsabers) but the "interpolated rotoscoping" in the movie is very new, I think developed specifically for this movie. It also screws with your head, sometimes nauseatingly. The whole purpose of the movie is to screw with your head, so why not let the visuals contribute?

It's an art movie, no doubt about it. It's a thinking movie, and it's a multi-layered movie. It's a movie that puts it's artistic ideals far, far ahead of its entertainment value. It's not a movie to easily write off as a naked emporer, or complain about because you weren't entertained. It's not a movie to take at face value. If you think this movie is about the philosophical bullshit, then you are not qualified to be criticizing said bullshit. Go watch it again, and show a little charity in your analysis.
I am glad all these writings came before mine. I have no interest in relating the cast, or the director, or the film's history. I can only tell you my reactions. These are important to me. They help me judge the film. The ability to affect and influence in a physical and real way, is what gives theories value.

I sat down to watch an "animated movie about philosophy." For two hours I listened and watched, watched and listened. At times it was difficult to do both simultaneously. The film's richness and quality of colour made it achingly beautiful to the point of distraction. But I listened to the ideas that were being discussed, to the ideas that echoed after they had been spoken. And I listened to what I was retaining of the wave of words washing over me. I thought about certain questions.

How do we define our identity.

How do we find meaning in our lives.

How do we understand reality.

How do we relate to each other.

How do we choose to live our lives.

I watched the movie. And I watched myself watching the movie, and taking away what was crucial and relevant to my life. The credits ran and I didn't move, and neither did the friends who I had seen the movie with. We sat until the credits ended and the theater emptied and we wandered out into the night, talking, smoking, talking, walking, talking. The world was different - we were awake, shotguns loaded with information, firing in various directions. A woman asked me for money for McDonalds food. When I told her I had no change she stopped me and asked me to buy them for her for the sake of my karma. I listened, and bought them for her. A minor gesture, but I felt she appreciated my smile as well as the cookies. We continued on our walk.

As the night wore on I could feel the intensity fading, the immediacy of the images and ideas moving to the background of my mind. We grasped at these images as they faded for the next two hours, our conversations growing more distant from the movie as we walked the streets of the city with no direction other than forward. Eventually we boarded the bus home and made dinner for ourselves, drinking wine and yelling at each other good-naturedly around the table, laughing.

I left that movie theater optimistic about myself, about the world and about the future.

Post-modernism is generally seen as a pessimistic ideology - I see it as the opposite. Every day, we are given the opportunity to recreate ourselves. Everyday, we can take the chance to accept responsibility in all its forms.

Our actions are influenced by the things we see, the messages we hear and the people we come into contact with. Sometimes things bring us together. They wake us up. They shake us, just a little. Enough to make us focus, to clarify, and to think a little harder. I may not be able to clarify what is was about Waking Life that I found beautiful, worthwhile, valuable. But I can tell you that I left the theatre connected, with my heart and mind open. Everything seemed a little crisper that night.

We strive our whole lives for those singular moments, those times that we connect with each other, that we forget how alone we are in the world. We live for those moments.

Not many of the ideas in the film were entirely new to me. But what was new was their beauty - their context in a shimmering, colourful world. That was new to me. I took that away with me. And I'm trying to hold on to it.

Thanks to decoy hunches, you can watch the movie at Google. - update added 8/22/2012 (and the rest of the write-up carefully ignored so as not to alarm the author with dated language, juvenile or malformed ideas or what is probably a lot of terrible formatting that really needs a rewrite).

What follows is intended to be a Scene Guide, an easy reference to the specific ideas in the movie. I'm not certain if this movie can be spoiled in the traditional sense. The "plot" is to this movie what the score is to so many others, it contributes, but you'd get the point without it. However, by definition what I am about to do will spoil this movie terribly if you haven't seen it before. That said, lets dive in!

Waking Life is above all an exploration of the relationship between the self and "reality". It uses the phenomenon of lucid dreaming as both device and metaphor. As device, the entire movie is the dream of the main character, played by Wiley Wiggins. We watch as he progresses through the stages of awakening. At first he is a passive observer, interjecting very little into the dialogue, unaware that he is dreaming. As he awakens he begins to play a more active part until finally he is a lucid dreamer seeking to "wake up".

It is how the movie uses dreaming as metaphor that will be the grist of most conversations. Here, Linklater is exploring a theme as old as humanity. In Eastern mystical traditions and religions (Buddhism, Taoism, Vedanta) there is Enlightenment, in which a person 'awakens' to the true nature of reality and the role their 'self' occupies within it. In Existentialism, as opposed to Postmodernism or Deconstructionism, we are encouraged to awaken to our responsibility for and ability to create our individual life. Related is the philosophy of the Situationists, directly responsible for one scene and contributing to many others, in which direct action is encouraged as a means for the individual to awaken to and escape from the modern consumer society or trap. The last -ism mentioned is perhaps the most important. In the context of this film Gnosticism is the belief that we are mired in illusion and thus prevented from experiencing true reality, a oneness with God or Enlightenment, depending on which setting we are in. While it is not explicitly mentioned until the very end of the film, and then only briefly, the idea is pervasive throughout.

We do not get a comprehensive treatment of any of these philosophies, rather, we get a vision of the director's gestaltist view of awakening as it threads through these philosophies and others. No one of the ideas receives pride of place over any other, neither does the director imply that one should precede the other in understanding or that there is a specific way in which an individual goes about "waking up". For that we should be grateful. The movie provides a large menu of food for thought and leaves it up to the viewer as to which dish or dishes they would like to sample. With that...

Scene 1 - Dream is Destiny
Features: Trevor Jack Brooks and Lorelei Linklater

"Dream is Destiny."

Opens with two children playing with an origami fortune teller (also known as a Cootie Catcher or Salt Cellar). The little girl unfolds the last piece to reveal the little boy's fortune, Dream is Destiny. After learning his fortune the boy gets up, wanders toward the drive way and nearing the vehicle parked there begins to float away. The implication is that this is our main character, Wiley Wiggin, at a younger age. There is a symmetry between the first scene and the last, as well as between the scenes dedicated solely to music.

Scene 2 - Tosca Tango Orchestra
Glover Gill - Accordion Player
Lara Hicks - Violin Player
Ames Asbell - Violin Player
Leigh Mahoney - Viola Player
Sara Nelson - Cello Player
Jeanine Attaway - Piano Player
Erik Grostic - Bass Player
In this brief scene we are introduced to the musicians who provided the soundtrack as we watch them at a rehearsal. Most of the music is provided by the Tosca Tango Orchestra, two songs are provided by the smaller group Grover Tango. This scene seems to serve no other purpose than to introduce us to the musicians and make us aware of the music through the rest of the film. For that, it is (still) a highly entertaining scene.

Scene 3 - Anchors Aweigh (The Boatisattva)
Marta Banda, Wiley Wiggins, Bill Wise and Richard Linklater

"The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure, while always arriving."

The first thing to note in this scene is Wiley's pleasant distraction with the girl seated by the pay phones. This is a common enough dream element, helping the audience to participate more easily. The dream is moving in one direction while a small element within it might distract the dreamer for a moment. Were he lucid at this point one gets the impression he might have chatted her up. This is supported by the fact that he meets her later and by her behavior at that meeting.

The bulk of this scene is spent in the boat-car with Bill Wise and Richard Linklater. The dominant philosophical themes are Taoism and Buddhism. The boat suggests the Taoist metaphor of flowing water. Other Taoist elements include reference to the I Ching in Bill Wise's suggestion that dropping Wiley off at a random location will determine the rest of his life as well as his admonition to "go with the flow".

Buddhist elements include Bill Wise' character acting as Wiley's Boatisattva, or spiritual guide at the beginning of his journey. Another Buddhist idea is Wise's statement about being in 'a state of constant departure, while always arriving.' This is similar to the Buddhist idea of 'self', always in a constant state of flux.

"The ride does not require an explanation, just occupants."

Related links on E2.

Scene 4 - Condemned to be Free
Features: Robert C. Solomon and Wiley Wiggins

"Your life is yours to create."

In this scene Philosopher and champion of Existentialism Robert C. Solomon develops Sartre's theme of personal responsibility and contrasts it against Postmodernism's socially constructed view of the self.

"The more that you talk about a person as a social construction, or as a confluence of forces, or as fragmented or marginalized, what you do is you open up a whole new world of excuses."

Existentialism is traditionally, and by Solomon's estimation, mistakenly, viewed as something of a dark philosophy, despairing. Alternatively, he holds it up, successfully, as hopeful. He feels it gives us back something which Postmodernism took, in failing to account for individual ability or contributions.

"I think the message here is that we should never simply write ourselves off and see ourselves as a victim of various forces. It's always our decision who we are."

This is, ultimately, a difficult philosophy for many. While it is empowering if embraced fully, it puts the responsibility for any dissatisfactions in life squarely on the shoulders of the dissatisfied.

Related links on E2.

Scene 5 - Signifier and Signified
Features: Kim Krizan
Kim Krizan, co-author with Richard Linklater of Before Sunrise, discusses the evolution of language, its true nature (inert symbols) and its potential for creating true connections between individuals. Her allusion to a "spiritual connection" serves as a reference to Vedanta's fourth level of consciousness, Turiya in Sanskrit.

The "spiritual communion" referred to near the end of her dialogue, while not a specific reference to art, extends the theme that life is about more than a superficial look at society (Situationist) would imply. Like Tiana Hux in Scene 26, she refers to real communication serving a greater purpose.

Related links on E2.

Scene 6 - Neohuman Evolution
Features: Eamonn Healy
In this scene the theme of awakening is temporarily taken away from the individual and applied to all of humanity in terms of evolution. Healy, a Chemistry Professor at the University of Austin, first discusses the history of evolution and the time scales on which the stages of evolution occurred. Beginning with life and humanity he paraphrases 'two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, a hundred-thousand years for mankind as we know it'. He then skips to anthropological or cultural evolution, noting ten thousand years for agriculture, four hundred years for the scientific revolution and one hundred fifty years for the industrial revolution. Note the telescoping effect at work here. He extends the curve to our near future, expecting evolution to speed up to where we can see it within a lifetime and eventually, take personal control over it (which brings us back to the personal again).

I've been unable to find an accurate timeline as to who influenced whom or which philosophy grew out of which. Suffice it to say, Healy's ideas are mirrored elsewhere in terms of transhumanism, Ray Kurzweil and other AI researchers comments on the Singularity and Timothy Leary's Intelligence2, which grew out of, or is intimately tied to his model of human consciousness.

The implications of these philosophies extend our hopeful theme. As Healy notes, the manifestations of the old evolution -parasitism, dominance, morality, war, predation- would be subject to de-emphasis or de-evolution. In his own words, "the new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom."

Related links on E2.

Scene 7 - First False Awakening
Features: Wiley Wiggins
We'll see this again later. There is no real analysis necessary. Note the fuzzy numbers on the digital clock, they will be explained by a character later on.

Scene 8 - Self-destructive Man
Features: J.C. Shakespeare
This scene is especially powerful for its placement directly behind Eamonn Healy's. Portions of Journalist J.C. Shakespeare's rant are eerily reminiscent of Eamonn Healy's characterization of the old paradigm of evolution. Contrast those manifestations noted above with Shakespeare's dialogue, "wars, famines, floods, and quakes meet well-defined needs. Man wants chaos. In fact, he's gotta have it: depression, strife, riots, murder, all this dread." The two notions support each other. Where they differ, however, is the conclusions we should draw for today and tomorrow. Where Healy, the academic, considers these in a dryer light, as an observer; Shakespeare rebels against that marginalization and makes it immediately personal.

His rant is almost pure Situationism as he berates the media for their role in 'persuading us to accept those evils and get used to living with them.' He states that "the powers-that-be want us to be passive observers" with only the symbolic act of voting for the 'puppet on the right or the puppet on the left' as an outlet for illusory control. To provide the exclamation to his rant he sets himself on fire in the manner of the Buddhist monks in Vietnam in 1963.

Not a superficially hopeful message, the scene does illustrate for us two powerful messages. The first is the resemblance of the Situationist's description of the world to the Postmodernist thought railed against earlier. Self-destructive man has excuses for his impotence in the media and capitalist systems of control. The second is the, graphically futile, personal and individual responsibility of Existentialism demonstrated by his actions. He steps out of the system and forgets the excuses as he lets his "own lack of a voice be heard..."

Related links on E2.

Scene 9 - Collective Memory
Features: Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke
In this scene Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke reprise their role from Before Sunrise as they cover quite a few topics in a relatively brief conversation. As they are not academics, 'merely' two people in bed speculating, their conversation is a great deal more accessible. One idea worth noting, however, is the resemblance of Julie's first comments to Chuang Tzu's paradox concerning appearance and reality.

Julie wonders if she might, at that moment, be in fact an old woman on her death bed reliving her life in her mind. She and Ethan note it would be impossible to tell the difference between that and real life, and wonder briefly what that would make Ethan (no longer a real person, just a memory now). Chuang Tzu's paradox was stated as he awoke from a dream in which he was a butterfly. He mused upon awakening, 'how am I to know, now, if I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly or am a butterfly dreaming I'm a man? It may seem at first glance a preposterous idea but the thought experiment at its core has a basis in modern science. The idea extends the developing theme, exploring the differences between our illusions, allowing us to contrast them and, eventually, drop them.

Related links on E2.

Scene 10 - The Prisoner
Features: Charles Gunning
A very powerful scene, it defies explanation at first. The simple summary is that it is a graphic example of the pain of the unexamined life. The strength of his diatribe is directly proportional to his lack of control. The bars, the prison cell, is an allusion to his trapped mentality. His rage is an unfocused desire for Existentialist responsibility, or personal control, as is over-exemplified by his control over his captors in his graphic fantasy.

Scene 11 - Free Will and Physics, or Free Will vs. Determinism
Features: David Sosa
David Sosa's monologue introduces and summarizes the Free Will vs. Determinism debate. In a movie nominally devoted to the self it would be terrible to neglect this question. It is worthwhile to note however that neither here nor elsewhere in the movie does anyone offer a definitive answer to this question.

Briefly, whether it is an omniscient creator who knows our individual futures or a deterministic machine set in motion by the big bang, neither system leaves much room for free will. Introducing the probabilistic framework of Quantum Mechanics does not solve the problem, at best it leaves the debate open. Sosa concludes that he would rather be a gear in a great big deterministic machine than a little 'swervy' quantum entity.

I'll close this section with a nod to The Matrix. In the second movie there is a scene in which Neo confronts the Oracle with this question after she offers him a piece of candy. If she already knows whether or not he is going to accept it, where in there does he get to make a choice? She tells him that he has already made the choice, he is not here to choose the candy or deny it, he is here to understand why he made the choice he did. Another popular movie with strong Gnostic overtones delays answer to this difficult question by rephrasing it in terms of Time.

Related links on E2.

Scene 12 - Systems of Control
Features: Alex Jones
Again we get the twin themes of Existentialism and Situationism in Alex Jones' libertarian rant against 'the slave state' and modern systems of control. He urges us individually and collectively to wake up and take control, of our lives, back from those who have stolen it from us. The rant and the rhetoric is dark at first, especially so if you've never heard this flavor of thought before. His smooth delivery makes you wonder what you've been missing, a la Chomsky. It closes, as do many of the other scenes, with a hopeful note though. Half call to arms and half pep rally:

"We're going to get fired up about the real things, the things that matter: creativity and the dynamic human spirit that refuses to submit."

Scene 13 - Say Yes to Existence
Features: Otto Hoffman and Wiley Wiggins
Otto Hoffman, a Quaker, has such a brief dialogue it is worth recounting in it's entirety.

"The quest is to be liberated from the negative, which is really our own will to nothingness. And, once having said yes to the instant, the affirmation is contagious. It bursts into a chain of affirmations that knows no limit. To say yes to one instant, is to say yes to all of existence."

In Buddhism, by acknowledging the negative - our preoccupation with the past, the future, our unchanging recognition of self - we free ourselves to embrace 'the now'. This poetic message is implied here and there but most loudly echoed in Scene 36.

Scene 14 - Liminal Experiences
Features: Aklilu Gebrewold

Superficially, Aklilu's dialogue bears a striking resemblance to Eamonn Healy's Neo-human Evolution. What constitutes a liminal experience changes over time as the output of the system is used as feedback. Evolution piles on evolution, ideas upon ideas, at a faster and faster clip, such that today's remarkable is tomorrow's mundane. Of special concern to Aklilu is the mind. He posits first a radical subjectivity arising from understanding the underpinnings to these liminal experiences, understanding their shared source. Arising out of, or inherent to, this radical subjectivity is its polar opposite, a radical objectivity. This seeming contradiction can be said to be at the heart of the Enlightenment traditions, especially Mahayana Buddhism as informed by Nagarjuna. Or in Aklilu's words:

"The moment is not just a passing, empty nothing, yet, and this is in the way in which these secret passages happen, yes it's empty with such fullness that the great moment, the great life, of the universe is pulsating in it.

The Tao advises its followers to embrace "The Middle Way", which of course is not possible without awareness of the extremes. Buddhism advises its followers to embrace both extremes without acknowledgement of paradox or contradiction. Vedanta is easy to see in the idea that the moment contains within it the entire universe. Unfortunately for the viewer, these summaries are easy while intuitive understanding takes a while.

In saying that the story is singular, and yet also story after story, we have a link created to that summary Scene 36 again. Each individual ego is given the same task in life, whatever terms they define that task in, it is the same task.

Useful at this point is the work of Lakoff and Johnson. In Metaphors We Live By and more so in Philosophy in the Flesh they explain both the underlying metaphors that inform all humanity's translation of reality (no matter the terminology built above it) and how those metaphors have informed most of our philosophy. With Aklilu first, and later with Ryan Power (scene 25) and Timothy Levitch (scene 27) we are given dialogue that defies simple analysis - if for slightly different reasons. It helps when trying integrate so many disparate studies to peer under the surface and see the unifying thoughts.

Scene 15 - The Aging Paradox
Features: Carol Dawson and Lisa Moore
The key to this scene is Identity. They introduce Benedict Anderson, an international relations theorist with Cornell University, to explain how we create identity, specifically with a picture of ourselves from years past. Anderson's work, specific to this scene, was about "imagined communities", for example, nationalism, in which a disparate group of people share an identity based on a nebulous idea. They extend this theme to an application of the personal, noting how we must make up a story in order to identify ourselves as being the same person as the person in the picture.

On the surface this seems to be an explanation of identity, or a component of it. However, when coupled with the other datum from the dialogue, that our cells are "new" every seven years, it seems to leave room for the opposite interpretation, or to at least imply the question. Must we retain concrete identity? Are the stories necessary? What if you do not like who you were? Are you in any way required to recall a previous identity in reflection of your self currently?

Who are you?

Scene 16 - Noise and Silence
Features: Steve Fitch
There are Situationist underpinnings to this scene but the message is more specific than the encompassing "society is a fraud" theme. The speaker talks about the creation of a 'subversive micro-society' at odds with the parent society that ignores it. More specifically though, he talks about art as the means for creating a true communication. While that true communication may have been his micro-society's goal, the net contribution is that art can change society. Art, whose nature comes from the extreme elements of a community, can be used to redirect the community at large. This idea shows up later as well, prompting the discerning viewer to form specific opinions about the director, i.e. he suspects/hopes his film will contribute to changing society as well. As well, note again the recurring "true communication", similar to Krizan's conclusion in Scene 5.

Related links on E2.

Scene 17 - The Overman
Features: Louis Mackey

"Which is the most universal human characteristic: fear or laziness?"

Mackey's dialogue here is almost pure Nietzche, specifically Nietzche's idea of the Overman. Mackey posits that there is more difference between history's great figures and the average human than there is between that average human and a chimpanzee. The answer to the question quoted above is supposed to tell us why so few people realize their 'true potential'. The question is arguably rhetorical as his choices for answer are equally unflattering. There is room, however, to take his dialogue as a personal challenge and set out to make yourself into an Overman, to separate yourself from the herd.

To put it in slightly less repellant terms than Nietzche chose, each individual has within them the tools necessary to rise above, to take Existentialist responsibility for their life and to create of it what they will. That so few are able to do so at a point in their life when History can grab ahold of them only speaks to the power of the illusions we each must struggle through.

Related links on E2.

Scene 18 - What's the Story?
Features: Violet Nichols and Alex Nixon
This scene is a bit of comic relief if you've been enjoying the director's vision up to now. The writer comes off first as potentially provocative. His description of his book is rather Postmodern. When he is then asked a relatively simple question, and compared to the rest of the movie an insightful question, he is transformed into something a little bit pretentious and a little bit absurd. We are left with the familiar archetype of the coffee shop pseudo-intellectual, or in other words, the bankruptcy of Postmodernism and Deconstruction when applied to the personal, the subjective. You have to ask, at the end of the scene, do you really believe this guy is going to turn out a book that anyone wants to read? Doubtful.

Scene 19 - The Right to Bear Arms
Features: Steven Prince and Ken Webster
Just as the bartender gets done rattling off a quote to defend his 'live by the sword' mentality, he dies by it. Seemingly out of place, this scene defies interpretation at first. Aside from the director having a personal opinion on guns, the scene suggests that the personal responsibility suggested by Existentialism should be understood to be absolute. That a philosophy is intrinsically good does not mean it will always result in good. That is left to individual application and will.

Scene 20 - Second False Awakening / Channel Surfing I
Features: Mary McBay, Kregg A. Foote and Wiley Wiggins
It isn't fair to accuse the director of relying on a deus ex machina here when the entire film lacks a context for each scene, however, he does fire a few ideas at you pretty quickly. For the purposes of the film, Mary McBay introduces lucid dreaming here, which the dreamer, Wiley, pursues in the next scene.

The other speaker, Kregg Foote, bookends her comments with some distinctly Buddhist ideas. Of special relevance to me is one possible useful interpretation of his closing line 'I contemplate the various relationships of my selves to one another'. When dealing with this many philosophies, it is easy to imagine this as 'the me that subscribes to that notion in Buddhism' relating to 'the me that appreciates that contribution from Existentialism' to 'the me that buys this seemingly contradictory theory' at the same time as the other two (or three or five).

Scene 21 - Dreamers Muse
Features: Jason T. Hodge, Guy Forsyth, John Christensen and Wiley Wiggins

"To the functional system of neural-activity that creates our world, there is no difference between dreaming a perception and an action, and the actual waking perception and action."

This scene serves to introduce Wiley, and/or the audience (depending on how you interpret Wiley's role with in the film), to lucid dreaming. The factual assertions made by the speakers, significantly John, the third speaker, are meat enough for this scene. There is, however, some more implied speculation. Specifically, if there is no functional difference between dreams and waking - given that dreams, like the ravings of a psychotic, may contain fantastical elements - how much of reality might be just as fantastic? Or how much of our mundane reality might be simply reinterpreted as fantastic?

The contrast between waking reality and dreaming, in light of their assertions about how the brain interprets them, forces one to remember that "reality" is not something we can directly perceive. Our senses relay data that is then interpreted by our brain. That the data is consistently interpreted is useful to us, and perhaps helps us to forget that very real distinction. 'Reality' is 'out there', 'I' am 'in here', and nary the twain shall meet.

Scene 22 - The Holy Moment
Features: David Jewell and Caveh Zahedi

Andre Bazin's Christian belief that God is present in every moment, in every thing, is not a belief unique to Christians. If you broaden the definition of God, take out the Old Testament anthropomorphisms and 'personality', you have are left with an idea just as palatable in the East. As Doug Mann notes, this is an idea Shankara would no doubt have been comfortable with. That extends to Chuang Tzu and Buddha just as easily, though you might have difficulty convincing Buddha that filmmaking was a worthwhile pursuit, Chuang Tzu would probably try it just for fun.

The second interpretation available here, less generous to the director, is that he is mounting a preemptive defenses of the film. It is as if Linklater knew where some of the critics would go and tried to forestall the easiest of attacks.

"Truffaut always said that the best scripts don't make the best films, because they have that kind of literary narrative frame that you're sort of a slave to. The best films are the ones that aren't tied to that slavishly."

This film, obviously, has large portions of which are entirely unscripted. While that does not demean the film in any way, it certainly helps that deeper analysis in this scene is also available (as opposed to Soderbergh's clip in Scene 29).

There is a cute moment at the end of the scene as well. Watch as David and Caveh attempt their own Holy Moment. As David notes after, it is only partially successful. This comes through loud and clear even through the animation. It's not so easy to just 'be real'.

Scene 23 - Society is a Fraud
Features: Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, E. Jason Liebrecht, Brent Green, R.C. Whittaker and Hymie Samuelson

"Society is a fraud so complete and venal that it demands to be destroyed beyond the power of memory to recall its existence."

This scene starts off a little intense. The four actors are in the middle of a derive, throwing Situationist rhetoric around. Their heavy handed treatment is rescued by the later observation "we're all theory and no action." Not a specifically Situationist notion, it is more a humorous indictment of the avant-garde or, as I referred to above, the coffee shop pseudo-intellectual.

At the end of the scene they address Hymie Samuelson as Mr. Debord. This is an homage to Guy Debord, who committed suicide in 1993. His line "the extreme uncertainties of subsisting without working" is a reference to the Situationist idea that we should do no work, which many did in the Situationist heyday.

Related links in E2.

Scene 24 - The Train Arrives
Features: David Martinez and Wiley Wiggins
Two interpretations are possible here. The first is the literal, David is referring to the relative obscurity of lucid dreaming and implying that somewhere in our past dreams were a great deal more respected. The second interpretation comes from his comment that we need dream with our hands as well as our minds. In this interpretation replace the word dreamer with another word or concept. Idealist works well, as does any term that refers to those who pursue liberty, freedom and other noble ideals, those who actively work to make the world a better place for all. I realize that is a fairly broad statement, what advocacy group doesn't believe their work is the most important? That he uses the word dreamer though, one connotation of which means 'as opposed to reality', would lead one to conclude that any advocacy group working to maintain the status quo is definitely excluded.

Scene 25 - One Thousand Years
Features: Ryan Power and Wiley Wiggins

"Exercise your human mind as fully as possible, knowing that it is only an exercise."

Ryan Power is an autistic teenager living in Austin, Texas. His first movie roll was in "Snack and Drink", an animated short film directed by Bob Sabiston, the animation director for Waking Life. I enjoy his scene more than any other, though it is probably the least accessible. What strikes me about this scene is the contrast between a literal interpretation of his words and the tone in which he delivers them. Granted, his monotone delivery requires careful attention in order to detect the nuance, but it is there. The literal text, without a proper grounding in the more esoteric or mystical philosophies, is somewhat dark. He seems almost dismissive when talking about the loftiest of notions, amused by the connotations he himself doesn't ascribe to. At the end of his monologue, he refers to his 'final departure schedule' in such a way as to let you know he is comfortable with it, and you can be to. His flip treatment of eternity, reference to a thousand years as being but an instant, makes you believe he knows something you don't, but that you probably want to.

I have no problem admitting I could be reading more into this than is there. I don't know enough about autism to know whether or not I should lend Ryan extra credibility or just be amused by his scene and move on. Here again, other interpretations are welcome and may be appended.

Scene 26 - The Human Ant Colony
Features: Tiana Hux and Wiley Wiggin
While there are one or two good ideas in this scene, it also does service to the plot in terms of reinforcing the feel of the dream. The first idea presented, from which the scene takes its title, is the need for quality interactions as opposed to the formulas we use for simple social lubricant. Tiana stops Wiley in passing, requests an honest encounter, and expresses her dissatisfaction with "Paper or Plastic? - Credit or Debit?" encounters. A refreshing concept, it is not exactly novel or profound, and to continue the themes we've developed, is most closely a Situationist dialogue rebelling against consumer culture. When our dialogue serves no other purpose than to facilitate a transaction or ease us by each other smoothly it enables the 'isolation within the crowd'. It is easy to imagine that this is a by-product of big city life, less prevalent in small towns. An interesting corollary, not prompted by the director, can be found in Robert Pirsig's Lila in which he discusses 'the machine' or 'the giant' serving its own purposes, regardless of its effects on humanity. The machine is a more advanced organism, its requirements for Quality are not ours.

There is a more elusive idea presented in the second half of the scene. As you watch the scene note the changes in focus and intent as Wiley becomes lucid. There is a sense of going from 'real' to 'unreal'. At first Tiana is a real character, giving as much as Wiley, if not more, to the conversation. As Wiley becomes lucid Tiana becomes less necessary to the scene, she becomes a prop which Wiley can use to explore his surroundings, his feelings. He becomes very self-conscious. The dialogue in this half is going to be more familiar to those who have had lucid dreams or to those who are able to remember dreams vividly. When we think of the broader context of the film, the link between lucid dream and reality, or subjective reality versus objective reality, the scene takes on greater significance.

Scene 27 - The Ongoing Wow
Features: Timothy 'Speed' Levitch and Wiley Wiggins

"An assumption developed that you cannot understand life and live life simultaneously. I do not agree entirely, which is to say, I do not exactly disagree. I would say that life understood is life lived."

To be fair to everyone else, Timothy Levitch should travel with a translator. This colorful character, like most of the cast, is merely playing himself. That said, attempting to define him is like attempting to write a Cliffs Note version of an Encyclopedia. What informs his opinions? Everything. I'll not, however, use that as an excuse.

More than any other character Speed seems to embody what Linklater is trying to put across to us. His dialogue rambles across the spectrum of -isms we've been discussing. From the Buddhist tenet that reality is now (WOW!) through the Existentialist authoring his own life to the Situationist demand for a genuine life not co modified, Speed is an individual through and through.

In reading dozens of individual reviews of this movie on various forums I noted that he, more than any other character, was as likely to generate rave reviews as personal attacks. It is my own opinion that the viewer can gauge their progress in understanding by their reaction to this individual. An immediate, averse, reaction most likely signifies a mind not quite ready to embrace the directors vision. I understand of course that that is a sweeping generalization. I point it out because it should be taken as such. Generalizations are useful tools that should not be mistaken for simple truths. Or in other words, YMMV.

"...and as one realizes that one is a dream figure in another person's dream....that is self-awareness!

Scene 28 - Dream Self
Features: Steve Brudniak and Wiley Wiggins

"And so, the person you appear to be in the dream cannot be who you really are. This is an image, a mental model...

Again, view this idea in the larger concept. When you realize that all of your perceptions, your vision, your reality, is entirely inside your head. When you accept that everything you see and know is subjective, including your mental model of yourself...

"You haven't met yourself yet. But, the advantage to meeting others in the meantime is that one of them may present you to yourself."

Scene 29 - She's Back / False Awakening Three / Channel Surfing II
Features: Marta Banda, Steven Soderbergh, Mary McBay and Wiley Wiggins
This scene is another in which many elements are gathered together. Hence my segmented scene title. The first element is the return of Marta, from Scene 3. This segment is left out of other's analysis as it includes no specific philosophical ideas. It does, however, strengthen for us the dream reality. I love this segment for how well it models that dream reality. Marta is forward, aggressive even, supplying all the dialogue and action a male might desire in an encounter. In that sense it is 'unreal', or dreamlike. Note also, that just as things are about to get interesting, he 'wakes up'. I can't know about anyone else, but this is a familiar element to me, from my own dreams.

From the false awakening, back to the couch, we've seen this before. There are two vignettes here worth noting. The first is an element familiar from before, in which Linklater seems to be preemptively defending his movie, or at least acknowledging its unusual approach. Steven Soderbergh's relation of the conversation between Billy Wilder and Louis Malle, that a movie about a "dream within a dream" will never be worth the money spent producing it, pokes a little fun at Waking Life.

In the second snippet we see Mary McBay again, this time speculating on a sort of life after death. It sounds a lot like an extension of the conversation between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke from Scene 9. Again, no in-depth analysis is necessary. Her dialogue is straight up, accessible.

Scene 30 - Swept Along
Features: Charles Murdock

"As the pattern gets more intricate and subtle, being swept along is no longer enough."

The entire text of this scene, it seems to move the plot along. It adds a note of urgency, foreshadowing Wiley's coming desire to "wake up!".

Scene 31 - Exploding Burritos
Features: Bill Wise and Wiley Wiggins
Aside from being fairly humorous, this scene does contain one quick idea related to our discussion.

"I have but recently returned from the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I am rapturously breathing in all the odors and essences of life. I've been to the brink of total oblivion. I remember and foment the desire to remember everything."

People who have had near death experiences often live life with a renewed zest and just as often with both a deeper appreciation and understanding. While understanding comes in many flavors, as this movie demonstrates, it can be assumed that any understanding is better than the ant (Scene 26) existence, in the director's view.

Scene 32 - Every Moment is Magical
Features: Mona Lee Fultz(as Mona Lee) and Wiley Wiggins

"...what we are, is just this logical structure....a place to momentarily house all the abstractions."

Coming so soon after the reference to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, it is appropriate that her entire dialogue is delivered in the past tense. Arguably a device, it gives her a certain authority, as if she knows something from experience we must wait to find out for ourselves. That said, there is a very Buddhist feel to the first half of her dialogue. To paraphrase Nagarjuna, or Aklilu from earlier, nothing is permanent, life is empty, sunyata, and Enlightenment is attained when we are divorced from the egotistical attachment to the idea of a permanent self. Seen in that way, her dialogue is not the past tense of a ghost delivering wisdom from beyond, but the past tense of the enlightened reflecting on their former existence.

"That's what I loved the most, connecting with the people. Looking back, that's all that really mattered."

Scene 33 - Garden and Portrait
Features: Edith Mannix, Bess Cox and Wiley Wiggins
In this wordless scene Wiley strolls through a Taoist garden until he encounters Bess, who presents a portrait of him, to him. What immediately leaps to mind is Steven from Scene 28 and the quote with which I closed my analysis of that scene. Here it is, literally.

Scene 34 - Sweep Me Up
Features: Louis Black and Wiley Wiggins

"Kierkegaard's last words were,"Sweep me up.""

Though I can not attribute it myself, I find reference to another Kierkegaard quote, from The Book on Adler in which he says, "Commonly the last words of a man are especially significant and memorable." I, for one, have had this scene ever present in memory since seeing it the first time. While it is yet to become personally significant, it is certainly memorable.

Scene 35 - The Tango of Yes
Features: Grover Tango, various dancers and Wiley Wiggins
As he does in so many other scenes, Linklater gives us an eerily appropriate segue to this scene. As far as the philosophical analysis goes, you could vaguely reference Taoism here. I enjoy this scene viscerally however. Though it is animated, it seems very real. The expressions, the movement and the music combine wonderfully. This scene is a treat on its own.

As the first appearance of Grover and his orchestra separates the beginning from the middle, so this appearance separates the middle and the end. It is nicely balanced.

Scene 36 - Just... Wake Up
Features: Richard Linklater and Wiley Wiggins
In this scene Richard Linklater wraps up his film during a conversation with Wiley. On the one hand, this is the first scene in which Gnosticism is explicitly mentioned. On the other hand, the entire film, being Linklater's vision, is a veiled reference to Gnosticism. Briefly then, one of the tenets of Gnosticism is that all of life is an illusion separating us from divine reality, from God, from true understanding, Enlightenment. Each philosophy propounded throughout the movie seeks to give the student understanding, the key to 'the truth'. Whether it is Phillip K. Dick's belief that we are all actually living in 50 A.D. or Lady Gregory's assertion that all reality is but one moment in which we are seeking to move from No to Yes, to move through the illusion, the analogy is the same.

In Timothy Levitch's words, "The world is an exam, to see if we can rise into the direct experiences. Our eyesight is here as a test, to see if we can see beyond it. Matter is here as a test for our curiosity."

Noting the difference between the two illusions shows us how Time is intimately bound to the pertinent questions. For instance, in physics equations, Time works both directions (the equation is true whether time is moving forward or backward). Time is also subjective (Time flies when you are having fun). As the challenge of Enlightenment is the freedom from the subjective, so is it also freedom from Time and the confusion it engenders.

So, while at first appearance, Linklater's exhortation that "its easy... you just wake up" seems rather casual, or flip, put into proper context with respect to time, it is rather profound and literally true. The subjective illusion of Time makes it seem as if moment follows moment, in each of which we are telling God (the universe, cosmic reality, what have you) "No, I am not ready yet." However, when we do come around, when we say "Yes" (to the ongoing Wow!), when we see through the illusions... that all is but one moment should also be clear.

Which leads us nicely to...

Scene 37 - Wake Up!
Features: Wiley Wiggins
An appropriate ending.


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