Waking Life: Rotoscope and Philosophy

Thursday, April 15, 2010 7:50 PM By Simon

What is the plot of this film? Jack shit if I know. A kid, played by Dazed & Confused's Wiley Wiggins, gets off an airport, goes to meet at a friend's house, gets a ride from a Mysterious Stranger, and some other dude picked up. He is driven to some random destination, where he gets hit by a car. He proceeds to shuffle around a dream he can't get out of, talking to various people (both actors and non-actors) on philosophy, reality, free will, and the meaning of life. It is filmed live-action, but then rotoscoped--drawn over, in some of the trippiest animation this side of Sylvain Chomet.

Rotoscope, I think, is a fantastic filmmaking style. Used in it's 2D form primarily by Richard Linklater, in this and his Philip K. Dick adaption, A Scanner Darkly, as well as Year of the Fish and the excellent documentary-type thing Waltz With Bashir (as well as director Ari Folman's followup, 'The Congress'). Here, it is used to it's full extent, a perfect illustration of it's subject matter. Everything is forever vibrant, literally, skin moves, heads sometimes detach from bodies, one thing morphs into another, or to another. Sidebar examples of the current topic will pop up in speech bubbles, inside the head, or just hanging in the air.

This film is not the type to see with anything other than a clear head, a basic undertsanding of philosophy, and an infinite amount of patience. Because, as mentioned, there really is no plot. Half of the characters aren't actors, just experts in various fields that Linklater called in to give lectures, then rotoscoped over. It's almost a documentary (not like Bashir, but you know), featuring animated interviews. The main topic is, pushing aside all else, what is reality.

Do we, as in you, as in everyone you know, maybe, really exist? If we do, is what you are immediately doing really happening, or is it a waking dream? Can you turn the lights on and off? Do you find yourself roped into conversations with people you don't know, about things you don't care about, and then find yourself completely engrossed? Do you hopelessly try to wake up if you are, in fact, in a dream, only to faze and unfaze away, wake up in a bed, to start the process over? Will you eventually float away?

Our main character, a perpetually unnamed young man with long hair and no discernable personality traits--because, I guess, he's purposely not a character, but an avatar for us--wanders his dream world like the dogged hero he is. He's not good, he's not bad, but his new friends will certainly speculate for either side.

Reprising their roles in Before Sunrise/Sunset are Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, discussing reincarantion. The acting here, like everyone else, can be mistaken for fantastic, completely spirited and natural (though, for them, I guess it is).

Linkalter could've easily turned his script into a vaguely-plotted book, and gotten the ectoplasmic accolades of Hunter S. Thompsan and Jack Kerouac. Instead, he went with his suits and made a movie so metaphysical, so surreal, so thought-provoking (and not in the Oh-gee-it-really-makes-ya-think Holocaust-flick type), and so confusingly awesome, it disappeared into the oblivion of flea markets and Amazon wishlists.

Here's some quotes, if your interested.

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