Waking Life (2001)

I watched this again recently, and the more I see it, the more I see in it. Though having said that, while the film continues to hold together better and better on repeated viewings, there is still something dreamlike and fuzzy about my thoughts on it. In an effort to articulate a couple of those thoughts, I thought I’d write a bit. Of course, this will be grossly simplified, but hopefully can be the beginning of me sketching out some concrete things about this movie I have enjoyed and been puzzled by every time I’ve seen it.It seems that Linklater is, at least in part, using the dream imagery in contrast to reality to bring out a couple of points. First, we should not be sleepwalking, or dreaming, through life. The idea here is that too many people just sort of stumble through their existence, without giving it much reflection or thought. One good example here is near the end of the film, when Wiley runs into the girl in the stairwell, and she then starts up a conversation between them. One of the first things she tells him is that she doesn’t want to be an ant. She doesn’t want to just go through life doing her job and going from here to there. She expresses the need for connection, for something real and vibrant. Also on this point I think about the scene in the middle of the film, in the room with three men. The third man Wiley talks to (also the first time Wiley talks to anyone outside of the phone) says this: “It seems everyone’s either sleepwalking through their waking state or wake-walking through their dreams.” He says this as a caution to Wiley, essentially saying that he needs to learn to control his dreams.

The second point in this “dreams versus reality” contrast can also be connected to Wiley’s time in that room. In his conversation with the Uke player, Wiley receives some important advice. He needs to combine his waking rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of his dreams. This is built off of the previous point, and is sort of the “how-to” of the film. Part of what the film is doing, is to show us the odd connections and one might even say randomness of the dream world – to show us these infinite possibilities. This is really the essence of a waking life. However, the genius of the film is that the more you watch it, the more the paradox between this randomness with the growing sense that this is all connected somehow. And what I love is that this connection is not drawn out for us in some all-explaining closing scene. The sense of connectedness is there, but the mystery of how it actually connects remains.

One final point: the final scene of dialogue, which is given by Linklater himself, is a striking way to close the film. The necessity that is borne out of that scene, and its connection to God’s imminence is quite effective. And Linklater’s use of the Bible reminds us of all the places within its pages that speak of the end being near – not in any kind of predictive sense, but as a way to encourage people to live and believe well. We have less time than we think. Thus, as Linklater says in that scene, God is making an offer, an offer that we come to accept through life. If only we will just wake up.