“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”


“You got a first name?”


Waking Life

It took me a while to get to this one because 1) cartoons are only for children and 2) it wasn’t nominated for the best animated feature oscar so it must not have been any good. so I watched Jimmy Neutron instead.

Actually that is all bullshit. I know this movie was beloved by critics and people alike. I even talked to one dude who hates all Richard Linklaters other movies but liked this one. As you probaly already know this is a movie that Linklater shot on digital video, then had computer animators paint over the video in their computer programs and turn it into surreal computer art type business. What the plot is about is this kid is dreaming, but he can’t wake up, and everywhere he goes people talk to him about free will or lucid dreaming or show off that they have some wacky quirk like they pretend their car is a boat.

Waking LifeNow let me tell you something. This is a completely original idea for an animated feature and I respect that. The animation style itself is also original and sometimes even looks good. Because of the software tracing over handheld video camera footage the backgrounds end up bouncing around like the whole city is built on the surface of a giant water bed, and everywhere you walk the trees and the buildings and the signs wobble around. Some of these shots, especially walking around on city streets, look stunningly beautiful and are a good totally phoney way of portraying a dream life. (I mean seriously, have you ever had a dream that was anything like this animation in any remote way? Of course not.)

There are also some interesting ideas to ponder in this movie. And some of the acting is good, like the one scene with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. A few of these actors know how to deliver this dialogue and make it sound like they’re actually talking and not just spewing memorized lines. Also some of the scenes obviously are real professors talking about the type of shit that they, unfortunately for us, like to talk about.

I had to get that out of the way because there are things that I can respect about this movie ON PAPER but that does not in any way mean that it wasn’t one of the most insufferable pieces of garbage of the year. I would have to say that despite some good scenes in there, overall I hated this fuckin movie.

Look, maybe you guys went to college, maybe you want to be back there talking to the worst bags of hot air you’ve ever known and consider that a good way to spend 90 minutes of valuable life. But don’t put the rest of us through that. I took a wednesday night writing class at a sort of hippie college so I’ve witnessed these kind of fuckwads firsthand. And I think anyone who has met these people in person knows that they should not be glamorized in cartoons. At this school they have what is called seminar. Everybody in the class is supposed to read about a book, and then they come and discuss it. They talk a little about the book but mostly go off on tangents about subjective vs. objective reality, existentialism, and what happened that week on the simpsons. Well this movie is like SEMINAR: THE ANIMATED MOVIE.

Okay let me give you a different example. I was on the bus and all the way from downtown to my house there was this yuppie talking loudly on his cell phone to a friend who had just gotten back from india. “So tell me all about it! Was it really indian? I mean did they have persian rugs everywhere? Tell me!” He went on and on about did you go out of Heathrow and etc. and tried to make it clear to everyone on the bus that he was intimately familiar with the airports and geography of Europe and was very worldly and etc., although at no point did he demonstrate knowledge that India and Pakistan were believed to be at the brink of nuclear war and that the day before the US had urged all Americans to leave.

Then the other day I went to a party and got into a conversation about THE OUTFIT and then everybody started talking about what Truffaut and Godard do. And the day after that I went to a barbecue and listened to some guys talk about which hotels they’ve stayed at in Vegas, which casinos they felt were used as locations in the movie SWINGERS, which magicians they wanted to see, why the logos for NBA teams symbolize the downward spiral of the sport and why the NFL is the only legitimate professional sports league.

If I had a video camera and taped all these fuckwads talking and then turned it into a cartoon, that might be quite an accomplishment for myself but I would not be cruel enough to release it in theaters and on dvd and expect people to actually watch it. These are the types of conversations a man or woman spends his or her life trying to avoid, except when high. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie before where I felt like I needed to nod politely and try to think of an excuse to leave.

I mean look, if you haven’t seen this movie yet and I’m not convincing you, I have no choice but to pull out the big guns. Here are some actual quotes from the movie:

“I’m beginning to think that it’s something that I don’t really have any precedent for, it’s totally unique, the quality of the environment and the information that I’m receiving.”

“When I say ‘love’, the sound comes out of my mouth, and it hits the person’s ear, travels through this byzantine conduit in their brain, you know through their memories of love, or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and they say yes they understand but how do I know they understand because words are inert, they’re just symbols. They’re dead. Y’know?” (in the next 10-20 seconds she also manages to use the words intangible, spiritual, communion, and transient.)

“We are all coauthors of this dancing exuberance where even our inabilities are having a roast. We are the authors of ourselves, coauthoring a giant Dostoevsky novel starring clowns.”

That’s not the only entry level pretentious literary reference either. Throughout the movie, people will be talking and slide into “Kind of like, D.H. Lawrence had this idea of two people meeting on a road…” blah blah fuckin etc. Or Philip K. Dick or you name it. A gal gives her idea for an interactive soap opera which comments on “consumerism and art and commodity.” Paradoxes, paradigms, self awareness. And yes, a professor talks about existentialism, fer cryin out loud. If you want to get the part of college that cannot be applied usefully, save your money and just watch this movie.

I’m not trying to say that these ideas are all full of shit or that these people are dumb or that thinking about things in different ways is not ever useful. Although, in the case of some scenes, that would be the truth. I’m just saying, this is a movie that made me want to back away slowly, and not make eye contact. These people are just like the asshole on the cell phone or the dudes who think the NBA logos are too cartoony – they think what they are saying is alot more insightful and impressive to the listener than it actually is. And no amount of fancy computer cartoons can disguise that fact.

You know what would be my idea of hell would be if this movie could follow you around and keep talking to you.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 8th, 2002 at 6:28 pm and is filed under Cartoons and Shit, Drama, Fantasy/Swords, Mystery, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “Waking Life”

  1. Agree fully. I have eleven Philip K. Dick books on my shelf, and even I found this movie insufferable. There’s a scene where one character says to another, “I’m not saying you don’t know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That pretty much sums up my feelings about the movie. I’m sure these people have, at least, a vague understanding of the diarrhea pouring out of their mouths, but to me, they may as well be speaking in Chinese. I’d like to sit down with any of the critics who decided the movie was some kind of masterpiece and ask them what any of it actually *means* to them.

  2. Here’s where I get confused: I just saw Slacker for the first time and really dug it. I have seen this movie multiple times and really enjoy it. However, while I like these movies quite a bit, I can also understand why watching them would be akin to staring at a wall watching paint dry for some people. But what I don’t get is enjoying one and hating the other, as Vern seems to. The two movies are such natural counterparts to each other that Waking Life could almost be considered a sequel of sorts. It’s like really loving Before Sunrise, but thinking Before Sunset is overly-talky sentimental tripe. The math just doesn’t make sense to me.

  3. Sometimes it just happens that way. Just because something is made of the same ingredients by the same chef doesn’t mean the dish will come out to your liking every time. It’s like you can say that you like chicken marsalla, but only the way they make it at this one restaurant, and even then they fucked it up that one time. Maybe they threw in too much pepper or left it on the stove too long, who knows?

    Anyway, I haven’t seen this movie despite having it on my shelf since 2003, and I haven’t gotten around to Before Sunset yet, so I don’t know how that theory stacks up. I like Slacker and Before Sunrise, though. And for the record, Dazed & Confused will always be Linklater’s best movie.

  4. Apparently I’m one of the few who liked his A SCANNER DARKLY.

  5. I loved Scanner Darkly.

  6. Linklater is one of the most inscrutable directors I can think of. His films range from SLACKER and WAKING life to… SUBURBIA and BAD NEWS BEARS REMAKE? And just when you think he must just bang out commercial films when his cash flow gets low, he makes the awesome SCHOOL OF ROCK. And then he manages to turn FAST FOOD NATION from an interesting documentary into one of the most apallingly awful message films ever. He felt BEFORE SUNRISE needed a sequel, but not DAZED AND CONFUSED? And all along, he’s making his decades-long mystery film with Ethan Hawke?

    IMDB quotes him as saying –
    “I would have loved to have been a ’40s studio director like ‘Vincente Minnelli’. You ended up with a real diverse career. Now you don’t get a call from [Darryl F. Zanuck] saying, “Come do this movie on Monday”. So you have to do it on your own.”

    Well, that makes sense, I guess. Although he still has an aggressively diverse resume even compared to, like, Michael Curtiz.

  7. I did like Slacker when I saw it years ago. This movie makes me afraid to watch it again. I might hate it now but if there’s a difference my guess is that I thought Slacker was supposed to be about a bunch of dumbasses talking about stupid shit, and I thought Waking Life was supposed to be about a bunch of brilliant people blowing your fuckin mind. I could be wrong on either or both interpretations but since that’s how they came across to me at the time that could explain why I didn’t have the same reaction to both.

  8. Mr S. – Linklater and Bigelow are sorta the respectable Peter Hyams, really.

  9. Slacker is great if only for the scene where the girl tries to sell them ‘Madonna’s Pap Smear’ and works to convince them that the pubic hairs inside makes it worth more.

  10. Don’t be ragging on Hyams! Well, as long as that workhorse is being talked about, how about a review of Outland, vern? It’s a decent thriller set in a sci-fi world with a great menacing performance by Peter Boyle. I’m waiting for a Blu-ray release, as one of the oldest Warner DVDs it could benefit from a hi-def upgrade. And there’s even a remake in the works, according to reports from about a month ago: http://www.filmjunk.com/2009/08/19/shoot-em-up-director-signs-on-for-outland-remake/

  11. I wasn’t dissing Hyams. Just pointing out how Hyams has similarly worked many different genres. A mixed record for sure, but still his stuff is always well lighted, since he is his own D.P. Difference between him and Linklater/Bigelow is, nobody exactly usually brings up Hyams in a warm special way.

    I guess Vern will eventually review Hyams’ TIMECOP.

  12. Mr. S It’s been awhile but I remember Linklater wanted to do a pseudo-sequel to Dazed but couldn’t get funding. I don’t think it was going to involve the same characters but just involve a group of friends in the 80’s. Before Sunset is very good I think. Really didn’t like Waking Life though. I like the animation and some of the ideas but it just didn’t cohere.

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