To dream is inevitable, and someone must have gotten the idea for this film while dreaming because I don’t see how else it could have come into being through a rational chain of thought.
In a nut-shell, “Waking Life” is a visual compendium of philosophical and social ideas and debates, and a freaky visual at that.
In a larger nut-shell, the film is made up of a series of discussions and dialogues, either with or between a variety of very interesting interlocutors, each of them representing or elaborating on a certain subject close to their own hearts and minds.
The film’s protagonist travels or jumps from one character to another and listens to their monologues, sometimes being there in his corporeal form while other times just being present when someone goes on a rant, or when two other characters talk about a given subject.
When I say the film jumps from one subject to another, don’t get me wrong, there is no sign of shoddy editing, and the pauses between discussions are punctuated with great and mood-inducing music, but more on that later.
The protagonist, and implicitly the viewer, is subjected to a plethora of monologues varying from subjects like existentialism, language development and the evolution of populations to modern society, reincarnation, free will, human curiosity, heck even gun control, with a little bit of dream science sprinkled here and there; there is something for everyone.
And through it all, the protagonist slowly comes to the realization that he is in fact constantly dreaming, and dreaming within a dream, within a dream, within a dream…A couple of the characters he meets along the film act as a sort of guides that teach him a little bit about dreams, and expose him to a theory that he may be finding himself in an endless loop of dreams.
Now I have to admit it, when it’s put into writing, this movie doesn’t seem like much but this is not the entire story. True, this is what happens in the film but just as important as the film’s content is the film’s style, feel and mood.
The technique of rotoscoping is used to great effect here imparting to the viewer the mood and feel of a constant dream-like state. Throughout the entire movie nothing is clear cut, colors are blurry and meld together, contour lines don’t always matter, scenes and characters transform and blend together, and this helps the mood of the movie by inducing that sense of dreaming, that sense of something being there yet not being able to focus completely on it.
When talking about the film’s mood, and I cannot finish this review without mentioning it, is the incredible soundtrack that this film benefits from. The soundtrack complements the film in a way that good soundtracks are supposed to, the Tosca Tango Orchestra complements this film just as well as the musical numbers complement “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” and Cliff Martinez complemented “Solaris”. Also, the soundtrack is the only other constant factor besides the protagonist, and as such it is as important, even more so than any other character the protagonist meets.
To conclude my review I can’t put it any better than a character in the film did: “There’s no story, it’s just people, gestures, moments, bits of rapture, fleeting emotions, in short… the greatest stories ever told.”