Thursday, February 24, 2005

Life is But a Dream

I just saw a movie called Waking Life. Go out and rent this movie. It is amazing. It's by Richard Linklater, the same guy who made Before Sunrise and Dazed & Confused. His movies strongly feature heavy philosophical dialogue, as you might remember from Before Sunrise/Before Sunset. His first feature length movie was one called Slackers which follows 100 characters through small vignettes, the movie's narrative thread being that these are all people linked by time and proximity -- 24 hours in Austin, Texas near the University of Texas. One tiny vignette will lead into the next through some tenuous coincidental connection, like character A will walk past character B, and the camera then follows character B for a few minutes before veering off to character C, and so forth. It's primary criticism is that it's a little long and lacks the strong sense of direction and organized plot of a regular movie (it doesn't follow the usual "Act" structure, I think).

Anyway, Slackers came out in 1991 or something. In 2001 Linklater made a movie that is similar in approach, but shorter and tackles its subject better, and has the advantage of having a nominal plot and a main character that has something at stake. It follows a young man who is trapped in a constant dream state, where the world is disjointed and fluid, and he gradually starts to wonder why he cannot wake up out of this altered consciousness, and if it means he is dreaming or dying. It also moves through short vignettes, these consisting of various random people pontificating on the nature of consciousness, life and death, the future of mankind, the soul, dreams, and the concept of self-identity as a construction or illusion. Most of the characters appear only once and deliver a monologue of heavy theory while the main character listens raptly, and over time each of these monologues build up to a larger examination of the self and our perception of the universe.

And here's the catch -- the movie is animated. Technically, it was made by a process called "Rotoscoping," whereby regular film is used as the base from which to draw animation cells, these digital. The end result is a "cartoon" that looks incredibly lifelike in its use of color and the way the figures move. You couldn't replicate this kind of realistic surreality by simply drawing figures from scratch (other examples of this you might have seen are a recent Target commercial with a guy coming home to his dog and slipping in a DVD, or more recently, the iPod ads featuring dancing figures. These were done also with a form of rotoscoping). In the case of Waking Life, the rotoscope process makes the world into a continually shifting, fluid thing. Backgrounds shimmy and wobble. Characters' bodies can change in shape or style or color. Nothing is solid or permanent, which matches the concept of the dream world in a way I've never before seen on film.

It's a beautiful movie, and one I might have to buy. It left me feeling very contemplative and existential. Check it out.

2 comments: said...

Waking Life was intense. I'm not to deep of a character unfortunately, but the movie was interesting. Animation it was the best thing to happen to it.

Brian Reeves said...

I'm of the opinion that interest in philosophy has to be generated. Most people don't get into it because they aren't exposed to it, aren't encouraged to do it. School is so focused on accomplishment and fundamentals. I used to hate philosophy as well; I found it either confusing, pretensious, or pointless. And while some of it still is, the more I learn of Existentialism the more I realize I've always been an existentialist, only without the formal analysis.

By the way I also prescribe to Postcolonialism (if you couldn't tell by my huge anti-tourism diatribe), Feminism, Atheism, and a sprinkle of Post-Modernism.