Director Richard Linklater has tilled the mental plane in films such as Before Sunrise, Slacker and Dazed and Confused. But in his new, computer-illustrated feature, Waking Life, Linklater delves deeper into the subconscious than ever before, exploring dreams, reality and the blurred line between the two.
“It’s a pretty fundamental idea” Linklater said in a recent interview. “You ask yourself these kinds of questions: how do you know what is reality, what’s real and what isn’t?”
Waking Life follows a nameless main character played by Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused) as he fluidly moves from one chance encounter to the next. He repeatedly wakes up from an experience he had not realized was a dream, only to find himself in yet another dream.
Linklater said the film’s untraditionally slow storyline contributes to the audience’s experience.
“You have to be kind of aware,” Linklater said. “The film sort of begs you to be participating in it as you listen to it and watch it; it pulls you into it. You get to go deeper into it and find other levels of awareness.”
Linklater admits it takes a while for audiences to understand the film’s development.
“As you see it, it kind of contributes to an awareness of what’s going on eventually,” he said. “That’s the film’s own awareness of itself and the audience’s awareness of the story that emerges from it.
“It doesn’t set itself up right away. It’s not a simple narrative, but it does emerge,” he said.
Filmed first in live action by Linklater and a three-man production crew, Waking Life was cut, edited and illustrated using computer animation software known as “interpolated rotoscoping.” A team of more than 30 artists digitally “painted” each scene at a painstaking rate of 250 hours of animation work for every minute of footage.
Linklater stressed the importance of the animation to the film as a whole.
“I thought about the film for years, but it was only when I saw the animation that my friends were working on that I said, ‘Oh that’s cool; it would make this film work,’ Linklater said.
“It’s very much about the animation taking you to some upper level of reality. A very realistic unreality is where you see it from, and that’s what the film’s about. You’re actually participating in it.”
Throughout Waking Life, Wiggins’ character strikes up conversations with total strangers, all of them eager to pass on to him their own theories of life, existence and many other philosophical subjects, constantly referencing works by philosophers such as Aristotle and D.H. Lawrence. Waking Life’s official Web site, www.wakinglifemovie.com, lists 22 individual “thinkers” as Linklater describes them, whose ideas appear in the film.
The process of choosing certain works and their ideas for inclusion in film was not formal, as Linklater describes it.
“Some (ideas) emerged out of the process, and some were pretty fundamental to the piece,” Linklater said. “I opened up the whole thing in my mind to all these possibilities and ideas, and inevitably it would be things I thought were interesting enough to build a scene around or put in the movie. A lot of it did come from the actors and the people I was working with, the people I had been around.
“I met a lot of people; these are the people who I felt articulated the movie. There is a wide array of people and personality and thought and a lot of contradictory stuff in there. ”
Waking Life, which opens Friday, represents a marked shift from the big-budget production of The Newton Boys, Linklater’s most recent release. Although he said he enjoyed working on a low budget, small-scale production for Waking Life, he hesitates to say where his next project will head.
“I don’t think there is any one way to make a film,” he said, “but every film has a right way to be made.”
Linklater is even more reluctant to suggest how his current project should be viewed.
“(Waking Life) is like a realistic depiction of an unreality,” he said. “I know that is contradictory, but the whole movie is contradictory. That is what it is about.”