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Waking Life

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In his book In The Blink Of An Eye, famed film editor Walter Murch attempts to examine why editing, the most filmic property of filmmaking, works. He arrives at no logical answer. The human brain, after all, encounters no such sharp clashes in imagery in the home or on the streets. In the real world, entire fields of sound and vision never stop and reinvent themselves in an instant. But in dreams, Murch argues, they do—and watching film involves more than a little bit of dreaming. Maybe Richard Linklater had Murch's book in mind when he made Waking Life, his remarkable new animated movie, but even if he didn't, it still plays like a justification of Murch's ideas. Linklater's dream of a film recognizes that the fabric of reality can stretch and tear under the weight of ideas, and that this is part of what gives value to both film and dreams. Linklater aids this end with Rotoscoping, a technique that converts live action to animation by tracing previously filmed material. Linklater and a small army of animators discover hidden possibilities within the fairly ancient, and often artless, procedure. Their protagonist is Wiley Wiggins, best remembered as the sleepy-eyed incoming freshman from Dazed And Confused. Here, he's first seen looking for a ride back into town after arriving at the bus station, the first of several echoes of Linklater's debut, Slacker. Adrift in a town that grows less familiar the more time he spends there, Wiggins encounters friends, crackpots, philosophers, and dreamers. Each engages him in a dialogue (or, just as often, delivers a monologue) on topics that include the enduring value of existentialism in a post-postmodern philosophical climate, the use of quantum physics as a model for discussing the eternal debate on free will, the significance of driving around in a car that looks like a boat, and the powers of lucid dreaming. In form, Waking Life at times resembles Slacker: The Animated Series, which in itself would be welcome enough, but it contains an intellectual heft and openness to possibility unseen in Linklater's debut. Wiggins encounters a few fools and loons, but mostly he comes across fellow seekers with ideas worth hearing. Though Waking Life's characters are sometimes pretentious, the film itself is not. The continual, gentle drift of its background helps set a tone of mostly gentle, mostly intellectual play, presenting ideas that engage waking life even while seeming to emanate from another place.