Waking Life
dir. Richard Linklater
Opens Fri Oct 26 at the Egyptian.

Underground FIlmmaker Caveh Zahedi appears in "The Holy Moment," one of the 37 vignettes in Richard Linklater's Waking Life. Zahedi's performance is beautiful, and that beauty is overshadowed by the creativity of the visual artist who enhanced it. Waking Life is rotoscoped, a process wherein an animator draws over a live-action image: Zahedi's hair undulates; his eyes bulge and his pupils go mad as he rhapsodizes about the Catholic philosophy of film theorist André Bazin. Zahedi asks to have a Holy Moment with the man to whom he speaks. The two characters lock eyes and turn into clouds, as if to prove Bazin's belief that cinema possesses the power to reveal God.

The rest of Waking Life is bravely hit or miss. Through a series of random encounters its protagonist (played by Wiley Wiggins) wanders around, hoping to wake from the surreal state of eternal dreaming in which he has found himself. Linklater's animators interpret his film beautifully: Characters' eyes swim in and around their faces; a prison inmate's face burns the deep red of his anger as he vengefully spouts off at the mouth. While disconcerting at first, the rotoscoping eventually becomes narcotic.

The only problems with the film are in its script, which, like Linklater's Slacker, suffers from a lack of narrative. A continuous stream of ontological monologues drags the viewer through extended periods of tedium, as when a professorial character gets all gooey over existentialism. The viewer is treated to ideas by Sartre, Nietzsche, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Aquinas, Kierkegaard, and Yeats, among a plethora of others. And while many of the characters' ramblings are well written and interesting, others are sophomoric and poorly acted.

But what Waking Life lacks in narrative, it makes up for in style. The immediacy of its protagonist's dream state is a fun ride, with a sweet sense of infinite possibility. The viewer leaves the film feeling fazed and still dreaming, and while Linklater himself suggests that Wiggins' character simply chooses to "wake up" in a final scene, the decision is left entirely up to us.

Support The Stranger