Waking Life

Waking Life

USA, 2001. Rated R. 99 minutes.

Cast: Wiley Wiggins, Peter Atherton, Steve Brudniak, John Christensen, Julie Delpy, Charles Gunning, Ethan Hawke, Nicky Katt, Kim Krizan, Mona Lee, Timothy Levitch, Richard Linklater, Louis Mackey, Edith Manniz, Steven Prince, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Solomon, Ken Webster, Bill Wise, Caveh Zahedi
Writer: Richard Linklater
Music: Glover Gill
Cinematographers: Richard Linklater, Tommy Pallotta
Producer: Tommy Pallotta, Jonah Smith, Anne Walker-McBay, Palmer West
Director: Richard Linklater


Grade: C Analysis and commentary by Carlo Cavagna

Note: This analysis and commentary is divided into an introduction and four parts that may be read independently or sequentially.

  I. The Making of Waking Life
 II. The Play-by-Play: A scene-by-scene walkthrough of the film
III. What It All Means: An Analysis
IV. Yeah, But Is It Any Good? A Critical Commentary

Part I briefly discusses the animation. Part II is a scene-by-scene guide to the film, and Part III contains an examination of the themes and ideas discussed. Although the author is not an expert in the subjects discussed, he offers Parts 2 and 3 as an introduction and reference guide to Waking Life. In Parts 2 and 3, the author has confined his analysis to the film's themes and influences, avoiding a qualitative assessment of the movie itself. That is reserved for Part IV.

Parts II, III, and IV contain spoilers and are intended for people who have already seen the film.

The Big Picture
ratings explained


A  young man asleep on a train dreams of a boy and a girl playing with a with a hand-held paper puzzle that opens to reveal the words, "Dream is destiny." Later in the dream, the boy observes a shooting star and begins to float off the ground, his hand resting for a moment on the door handle of a car. At a train station, the young man calls a friend and leaves a message while a mysterious woman watches him. He hitches a lift in a car that looks like a boat, whose driver, dressed as a sea captain, tells him, "The ride doesn't require an explanation, only passengers." In the back seat, the other passenger remarks, "There's only one instant, and it's right now, and it's eternity." The young man has no destination in mind, so the other passenger instructs the driver where to drop him off. There, he finds a note in the middle of the street telling him to "look to the right." A vehicle speeds toward him from that direction, but the instant before he is struck, he awakens in bed. He awakens into a perpetual dream state. Was he hit by the car, or did he dream that, too? Will he ever awaken again?

That's the beginning of Linklater's new film, Waking Life, which uses groundbreaking animation to confront us with questions about who we are. Even though Waking Life is an incomplete and dissatisfying journey, there is a great deal of satisfaction to be found in a further exploration of the film and its themes.

Continue to Part I

Analysis and commentary © January 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Fox and its related entities. All Rights Reserved.

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