Favorite Moment Theatre: Waking Life (2001)

There’s so many wonderful moments to savor in Richard Linklater’s WAKING LIFE, a brilliant mediation on life in the metaphysical fast lane, that its hard to pick just one. But if we’re talking about best American films of the 2000’s, I’d put this film right in the top three. A more optimistic companion piece to SLACKER (1991), Linklater expands upon the constricted Austin ambiance to examine the dream worlds of various characters using a rotoscoping animation technique developed by Bob Sabiston. The film riffs on social, political and technological questions with Linklater’s usual crew of improvising non-pro and pro-actors, and it remains for me one of the few genuinely transcendent works of cinema art in this early 21th century. Dream is destiny.


19 Responses to “Favorite Moment Theatre: Waking Life (2001)”

  1. hear hear, i absolutely ADORE ‘waking life’! (i adore linklater full stop, really)

    i think the use of rotoscoping in this is brilliant, the perfect visual cue for the ‘in between’ realm the movie inhabits, glimpses of reality beneath the art, which serves the deliciously philosophical nature of the film perfectly. i agree, a genuinely transcendent work of cinema.

    (it’s a pity linklater didn’t pull it off quite as well for ‘a scanner darkly’, which for a far more structured piece is muddled and tentative compared to ‘waking life’)

  2. christian Says:


    I saw this in a screening room alone at Fox right before 9/11 and it seemed to make the film more resonant in the face of that tragedy. As I lived in Austin while he was shooting it, I knew some of the folks in the movie and it made for a strange inter-connectivity.

    I also interviewed Richard for CREATIVE SCREENWRITING and you can read it here for posterity:

    A SCANNER DARKLY is still pretty cool, tho disjointed, but it must be one of the first truly faithful adaptations of Phillip Dick. And Downey in manic cartoon form is great as is Woody Harrelson.

  3. LOL bonza

    awesome interview, christian, thank you so much for linking that!!!

    i tend to divide the world up into two types of people: weird artistic types (to whom i can relate, if not always agree), and what i call ‘accountants’ but not in the literal sense, just my term to describe the ‘opposites’ of weird artistic types and to whom i can’t relate well at all. linklater strikes me as an excellent example of the former! i’m so envious you got to pick his brain like that, i’d love to do the same (i wonder if he has any intention to explore his childhood fascination with sci-fi? i’d love to see him have a go at it)

    i didn’t have time to go into my feelings about ‘a scanner darkly’ earlier but i actually quite like it, all the players in it worked for me – even keanu, who may not be the greatest thespian to walk the earth but i think linklater pulled a decent perf fitting to the material out of him – and i find it quite compelling and rather hilarious, but not particularly enthralling/gripping; it just seems to lack cohesion and internal drive, but i still think of it as a very worthwhile effort. ‘waking life’ tho for the experiment it is, is just so exploratory and profound, whenever i watch it i find myself on a philosophical bender of my own afterwards, which is a beautiful thing, always. i think it will be considered a classic in time

    • christian Says:

      You so welcome. Richard was cool and laidback and tried to teach me how to actually lucid dream, which he says he can. I’m still trying.

      Yes, I think ASD does meander, but I guess that seems in keeping with Dick’s tone and Linklater’s Euro-style pacing.

  4. thanx for the interview xian ! are u still writing for them ?

    this movie makes me weep everytime. form and story are so deeply linked, it’s an amazing feat. interestingly, in europe, people called the movie pretentious. i don t get it. when did talking about dreams became pretentious ? i was one of the few hardcore defender of the movie in france, where it was barely released (two screens, for a week).

    • christian Says:

      Well, you gave me my dvd copy, so thanks! Haven’t written anything for CS since my Henry Jaglom interview for HOLLYWOOD DREAMS.

      It’s only pretentious tyo those who think people talking about ideas ar “pretentious.” Surprised it didn’t do better in France. All those berets and coffee and discussions…

      • ah yes ;) i remember… i thought it was in a dream. i came to stanley, dropped by and gave you this dvd…. maybe it was real after all ahaha….

        france is very different that the image we have of her. anything “art” coming from outside is good. art from inside is pretentious. i guess linklatter is too french for the tastes ahaha… seriously, i m not sure at the time people could think that a cartoon, if that movie can be considered a cartoon, can have serious aspects… it was way too underground… a scanner darkly was not heavily released too… i mean, two drawbacks : cartoon AND sci-fi. in the country of sartre, it is messy…

  5. WAKING LIFE is pretty good as a quasi-sequel to SLACKER (which I think is a better film). The problem I have with WL is that the animation, at times, distracts from what people are saying.

    That being said, because there was more consistency in the animation for A SCANNER DARKLY, I’m much more of a fan of that film. Quite faithful to the source material and wonderful performances out of Reeves, Harrelson, Rory Cochrane and, of course Robert Downey hitting it out of the park again. Plus, Winona Ryder was born to be animated. So there’s that too.

    • christian Says:

      I sometimes wish the animation was more bold and stylistic in WAKING LIFE but it fits the dreamy abstract wanderings of the characters.

      And yes, Winona Ryder looks just as stunning in toon form. I still think she’s the most beautiful woman on Earth.

  6. THE FUTURIST! has never seen this film. After seeing THE NEWTON BOYS, THE FUTURIST! has never watched another Linklater film.

  7. christian Says:

    Aw, don’t hold THE NEWTON BOYS against him. He’s one of the great American directors. BEFORE SUNRISE and SUNSET are fantastic. Even SCHOOL OF ROCK used Jack Black the best.

  8. Aw, ok, Christian … THE FUTURIST! will give it another old Boys School try.

  9. christian Says:

    That’s the spirit!

    Then report back.

  10. Yeah, how could you not love BEFORE SUNSET which is almost as good if not mebbe even better than SUNRISE. And I couldn’t agree more with you on SCHOOL OF ROCK which was a lot of fun.

  11. christian Says:

    I was surprised how much I loved BEFORE SUNRISE and how SUNSET is even better — certainly my pick for best final moment of the decade.

  12. Always thrilled to see this movie get some digital ink. It’s steady at my #3 spot for favorite of the decade.

    Wow, the mentions of Linklater’s School of Rock and Before Sunset (and even A Scanner Darkly) make it easy to overlook Fast Food Nation. And I didn’t see Orson Welles. But this guy has had a pretty prolific decade.

    Don’t forget Tape – also love that movie.

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