A Gooden Worsted Double Feature

Waking Life
By Richard Linklater
My Rating:

Interesting feature-length philosophical animation.
Add 1/4 star if you like talky, philosophical films;
Add 1/4 star if you are into good animation; and/or
Add 1/4 star if you already are predisposed to Linklater's work; for a total of not more than 10 stars.

By Akira Kurosawa
My Rating:

A series of dreams in vivid cinematic color.
Add 1/4 star if you are really, really into vivid cinematic color;
Add 1/4 star if you are totally into Kurosawa's work.

Bitable Bytes:
"...Suitably Entertaining!"
"[Waking Life] Delighted Me!"
"[Dreams is] Interesting...Not Hurried!"

What to do while watching: Feel a little stoned or spaced out, due to the intentionally dream-like aspects of both films.

What to eat while watching: For Waking Life, nothing; or something with a very subtle flavor--a good red wine, or, perhaps, unadorned oatmeal. For Dreams, a peach at the peak of ripeness; alternately, snow.

Last night, I dreamed that I was back in school. I felt out of place and aloof, like I'd already paid my dues; and even though I was getting something out of this class (on geology, I think), I sat in the seat farthest from the teacher with my skeptical attitude. On the plus side, my old friend Jerry K the II was in the class with me, sitting one seat up, and his wisecracking made the dream suitably entertaining.

"So what?" you might ask, just as you might ask almost any time someone other than a close personal companion begins telling you their dreams. For some reason, the non-interest we have in other peoples' dreams is matched equally by the drive we have to tell people our dreams.

On rare occasions, a very funny story can come out of a dream, like the time my friend Amy Y. dreamed that the general in the Beetle Bailey comic strip was saying "Ill soul; the soul is beautiful, is enclosed." What a striking thing for a comic-strip character to say! Even though it wasn't my dream, I never forgot it.

Richard Linklater has a gift for telling a story, which almost annoys me because by all rights, the film shouldn't be that interesting. At the end of Waking Life, a feature-length animation drawn over live-action footage, Linklater appears as a character in his own film with a long monologue about a dream of his. He seems pretty cocksure as he delivers it, not like the strange hitchhiker he played in his first film, the seminal Slacker. As a filmmaker, he's more realized, and he's come full circle back to Slacker, in ways, with Waking Life.

The newer film shares a wandering aspect, as well as Slacker's technique of introducing many characters who speak as though we've known them for a long time. These fascinating people show up to deliver some intellectual idea, and then they recede. I should clarify that the word "intellectual" is not meant negatively, in spite of its connotations. The truth is, intellectuality is based on true excitement about ideas. Good intellectualism tickles the meninges and massages the synapses. Waking Life throws many good ideas into its mix, so it's generally engaging. On the other hand, Mrs. Worsted, who'd had a long day, conked out halfway through the film--even in spite of the cool art--and went to bed; so be aware that this film is probably not for everyone, and it does take an alert mind to watch.

For Linklater fans, this movie is a must see. Not only will you feel the Slacker feeling all over again, but you'll also see the protagonist (or at least the actor) from Dazed and Confused return to the role of protagonist. The two lovers from Before Sunrise return, too, having a post-coital discussion about dreams and memory. You can recognize Ethan Hawke even as a cartoon character. The director Steven Soderbergh also makes an appearance as a character in this movie, and the relationship between the two director seems a natural, given their similar debuts with very low-budget films that showed great brilliance. (Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape is on my top-films-of-all-time list.) Not having seen The Newton Boys or Tape, I don't know if Waking Life made references to these films as well, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit.

The animation impressed me quite a bit, but I do tend to like that art form. Many styles and textures made the film continually interesting to me, especially because the artists have such playful natures. There are visual jokes throughout, cropping up in the background and in the transformations of the different characters.

In a nutshell, the story is about a young man who can't wake up from his dream. This particular dream may be the last activity within his brain as his body dies. One thing this film has over Slacker is a framing story that actually lends a skeletal beginning-middle-end to the film (not that the lack of structure detracts from Slacker). Basically, this film delighted me.

Another movie depiction of the dream world, Kurosawa's Dreams also has stunning visuals. Several dream sequences, all filmed in very vivid colors make up the movie, and although the pieces are mainly unrelated, I connected them in my own mind by imagining that the protagonist of each dream was the same man at different stages of his life.

The first sequence shows a boy interrupting the "wedding of the foxes," a procession in Butoh. Maybe it wasn't actually Butoh, but it was every bit as slow moving as that dance form. The foxes get mad at the boy and demand that he kill himself, but he manages to earn their forgiveness. In the second sequence, a boy sees a ghost of a young girl and chases her into a razed peach grove. The spirits of the peach trees still live in the grove, and they condemn the boy's family for destroying the grove. But the boy convinces them that he had loved the trees and had tried to stop his father from chopping them down. Convinced of the boy's good soul, the spirits do some slow choreography that brings a snow-flurry of peach blossoms down over the empty field.

There is something operatic and ancient about these sequences. They tap into archetypes, but whose archetypes they are, I am not sure. Another sequence finds an arctic exploration party caught in a blizzard. On the verge of freezing to death, the leader of the party sees a vision: an angelic figure who tells him that snow is warm and ice is hot. The party survives the blizzard and finds their camp only feet from where the storm caught them. A further sequence shows an army commander addressing his dead battalion, dismissing them once and for all. It's a guilt dream that seems to be never-ending. Then there's a Japanese tourist in an art museum who steps into a Van Gogh painting and meetings the crazed master himself. The tourist walks though painting after painting until the viewer has had just about enough.

The movie, as a whole, is interesting, which is not to say that it is hurried in any way. It's certainly about dreams, and other than that, it doesn't tax its continuity too hard. Some dreams come with distinct lessons, delivered with the subtlety of an Aesop fable. I recall hearing, when Dreams came out, that this was the great director's finest work, but I wonder now if that person had said "final" and not "finest" after all. I preferred Ikuru.

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For your collection:

Waking Life (VHS), Waking Life (DVD), Dreams (VHS) (English Subtitles)

Gooden's listening to: Trail of the Lonsome Pine, Songs from the films of Laurel and Hardy

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