Watching Waking Life feels at times like you're the only sober one at a party populated by stoned amateur philosophers. It's an animated meditation on dreams and the importance of the individual in the modern world — sometimes pretentious, sometimes impressively intelligent, but always vibrant, thought-provoking and entertaining. The protagonist, an unnamed 20-something played by Wiley Wiggins (the wide-eyed teen playing with the big boys in director Linklater's much-loved 1993 film Dazed & Confused) wanders through his dreams, at first listening to the theories on life and existence of those he meets, and then when he realises that he is dreaming, interacting with the world around him.
The animation in Waking Life is astonishing. By filming all of his actors, transferring these images to computer and then getting his team of 31 animators to draw over them, Linklater achieves an incredible realism in terms of movement, expression and speech. Faces and bodies range from a high level of detail to an exaggerated, more cartoony look, while the backgrounds constantly shift and slide, emphasising Wiggins's dream state.
The technique of a narrative moving constantly from one character to the next is not a new one for Linklater — his 1991 debut film Slacker was comprised solely of this. However, Waking Life is more focused than that rambling classic, as if the writer/director had a specific collection of theories and concepts he wanted to get up on screen. Many of the conversations and monologues may take some concentration to follow, but this is hardly a bad thing, and most are worth listening to. And while cameos from Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Steven Soderbergh may seem a little incongruous at first, who knows who'll visit your dreams when you sleep tonight?
Skilled indie director, specialising in dialogue-driven comedy-drama. Linklater's 1989 debut Slacker was an unusual but well-realised portrait of disaffected 20-something life in his home town of Austin, Texas, while many consider Dazed and Confused, his warm but unsentimental snapshot of mid-70s youth culture, to be one of the best teen movies ever made. Linklater's first stab at the mainstream - comedy western The Newton Boys - was a disappointment, but Before Sunrise, SubUrbia, Tape and the animated Waking Life are all intelligent, intriguing pictures.