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Waking Life: A Commentary

Updated on December 15, 2017
DGtal Montage profile image

Poet, blogger, college professor, literature, and film enthusiast. Excited about critical and creative writing. Pursuing a Ph.D. in English.

Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Trevor Jack Brooks, Lorelei Linklater


What are we? Are we a sum total of our thoughts or sum total of our actions? Why does there have to be a negation of communion, between thought and action?

Or are we a summation of all the encounters we have?


“Waking Life” is about this quest for reference; reference back to the self, as if one’s identity is dependent on not just a recognition of one in another person’s consciousness of reality, but as a necessary part of the entire history of existence:

“It's something very concrete, it's you and me talking, making decisions, doing things, and taking the consequences. It might be true that there are six billion people in this world, and counting, but nevertheless -what you do makes a difference. It makes a difference, first of all, in material terms, it makes a difference to other people, and it sets an example.”


It is like the aspects of subconsciousness are choreographed through the one constant reality called chaos. Theory and action are set not in concurrence but at opposition of each other.The central figure glides through layers, sometimes consciously, sometimes unknowingly, of dreams. It is kind of a reverse sleep walking. What is intriguing is that he is getting more and more aware of being confined within its bounds. The look of exasperation when he wakes up (or when he thinks he does), only to find the digits on his clock melting into obscurity, the frantic clicking of electric switches, the shady dissolving of persons he constantly encounters takes us to a moment of Deja-vu.

“On the way to discovering what we love, we will find everything we hate, everything that blocks our path to what we desire”

And Julie Delpy is found contemplating reincarnation and Jungian contentions.

It is right when we try to frantically look for signification, we are shown the futility of our endeavours:

“The best scripts don't make the best films, because they have that kind of literary narrative thing that you're sort of a slave to. The best films are the ones that aren't tied to that slavishly.”


The film runs for 1 hr 40 min. It still feels like it runs only for a single instant. It is about the single moment when the man is hit by the car and it becomes like a sum total of the entire truckload of philosophy that human and even pre human beings have accumulated.

Time is disjointed from its convenient unidirectional sequentiality.

Finally, when the dreamer re encounters the two men and desperately seek recognition, he is denied that. He is left precariously floating in a universe of doubt, unsure of whether he is alive or dead, ant or a zombie, evolved chimp or a dent in the scheme of things, he is swept up, as in Kierkegaard’s last words.


“Sweep me up”


And we are left with an equal uncertainty as the final shot melts into ever dissolving letters.

A breathtaking experience, every scene excelling the previous, the constant quivering of the images, the careless strokes of pastel animating the scenes, the brilliant handling of animation to communicate the essence of hallucination, everything adds up to make the film an objective correlative of the maker’s vision.


This could only have been done this way. They is absolutely no other way to capture the universal consciousness of chaos, and to express the most human of all crises: the question of choice within a world of logical sequencing. And that is so very connected to the question of human independence and how futile every revolution had been since 50 AD.


And yet, how meaningful each instant is.

“And on really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion.”




© 2017 Monami

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