Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

Waking Life 2001

Directed by Richard Linklater

USA In English
100 minutes

Director, Screenplay


Richard Linklater, Tommy Pallotta


Sandra Adair


Bob Sabiston


Tosca Tango Orchestra, Glover Gill


Wiley Wiggins, Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg, Speed Levitch, Ethan Hawke, Steven Soderbergh


Sundance, Venice, Toronto, New York, London 2001; Rotterdam 2002


"Richard Linklater’s dreamy, spacey, sensually anti-gravitational movie is a genuine novelty – both technically and temperamentally – and also a return to the non-narrative filmmaking of Slacker, his film of 11 years ago. It’s an animated feature, if that adjective can really be applied to one of the most laid-back films it is possible to see. Linklater and his art director Bob Sabiston use live-action sequences with flesh-and-blood actors, filmed and cut together in the conventional way and then animated images are derived from this footage, in a kind of ‘tracing-over’ effect: hi-tech rotoscoping. 

The result is very wacky: automobiles throb; buildings pulse; eyes and mouths loom away from faces; pavements, ceilings and floors pitch and yaw, as if aboard a ship... Something that looks disconcertingly like physical reality is perpetually swarming and re-settling and re-configuring itself: an effect which is comic, playful, but also disturbing… It couldn’t be more appropriate for Linklater’s story, about a young slacker, who slopes back into town with no particular place to go. He is ‘played’ by Wiley Wiggins, or at least Wiggins supplies the animators with the carbon life-form original, and with his lank, sexless, pudding-basin hair, his blank open face and Gap/Banana Republic clothes, Wiley is the most unemphatic screen presence it is possible to imagine, a perfect foil for the people he is to meet. He is hit by a car and for the rest of the film spends his time in a hallucinatory dream-state where he meets a number of very strange people discussing the nature of existence and reality… 

All philosophy is Philosophy 101, they say, and Wiley is getting the most fiercely intense undergrad seminar of his life, or perhaps rather his near-death. And in the audience, we are submitting to the highly unusual experience of being made to re-examine the substance of our own consciousness in a cinema auditorium. When was the last time we saw a film from America, or anywhere else, which took ideas so seriously? This is a wildly invigorating, unexpectedly thrilling and even moving film and the animation technique, so different from glitzy CGI stuff, couches it in a seductive hyper-reality, which is, as the Russian formalists would say, a knight’s-move away from what we see and hear outside the cinema. Will it all look very dated in a few years’ time? Maybe. But just now it looks like idealistic, and superbly cerebral state-of-the-art moviemaking." — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian