Take “Before Sunset,” subtract love story, convert all conversation topics to existentialism, spread conversations between hundreds of characters in minute-long vignettes, add trippy animation, and voila: You have “Waking Life”! This surrealist animated film for adults seems more like a philosophy course than an actual movie. In director Richard Linklater’s signature style, the story is told through a series of conversations between two characters in order to explore various topics and educate viewers. This film’s topics include existentialism, lucid dreams, and the meaning of life. The various vignettes are connected by a protagonist who experiences the conversations by meeting people in the street, seeing scenes on tv, speaking with friends, and through out-of-body experiences, all of which occur within a long dream. This film requires a lot of focus in order to wrap your mind around its high-brow philosophical concepts, especially since there is basically no reprieve from the constant flow of ideas. It is a bit challenging to get through the first 45 minutes but once you start to understand the overarching storyline, it becomes a fascinating presentation of philosophical principals. The only reason that I had any interest in the film was because Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play their characters from “Before Sunrise” in a scene, but there is so much more to it than that. It is unlike any other film you have ever seen, both in its classroom-like analysis of topics that requires higher-level thinking and its visual design. The animation style is unique, created by artists who rotoscoped completely overtop of live footage. The lack of stability in the shapes of the characters and their surroundings further emphasizes the surrealist theme of the story. The odd tango soundtrack lines up well with the imagery. The thing that may have had me the most perplexed is the fact that Linklater directed this film then directed “School of Rock” two years later. “Waking Life” is more of an experience than it is entertainment and at the conclusion of the film, you will probably feel more like you sat through a mind-blowing college lecture than a movie. I will say that I had a greater appreciation for the film the second time around. With so many surreal philosophical concepts, “Waking Life” makes it difficult to be sure about anything… lest one thing: This movie is entirely unlike any other that you will ever see.
[Pictured: Every frame is a work of art. The rotoscoping technique allowed animators to create a surrealist dreamscape that becomes the pallette for Linklater’s philosophical lecture]