DVD Review: Waking Life

The Greatest Conversation You’ve Never Had

Those who know Richard Linklater’s work will be familiar with his love of dialogue (ALOT of dialogue) and his constant quest for exploration and understanding of the human condition. At least they could be the core values of his visual essays. Also thrown into the mix would be languid meandering periods of time, sometimes many physical years as in the case of ‘Boyhood’ (2014), or the happenstance and serendipity of life as in his ground breaking ‘Slacker’ (1991) with the camera following an individual until they cross paths with a new seemingly random person whereupon the camera tags onto them till another crossing.

However no matter how realistic and painfully honest the subject may be to the observer, such as in the wonderful Before Midnight (2013) there’s always a sense of play about the work, which makes the messages far more digestible and actually fun. The stories are joyfully brimming with ideas and the love of story telling, yet they don’t leave you bloated.


Like the great human mixologist that he is, he conjures up a beautiful visual cocktail for the brain (and soul) in the movie ‘Waking Life’ (2001) using some of his favourite key ingredients, the seemingly random wanderings of ‘Slacker’, the existentialism of many of his movies, returning actors, brilliant erudite dialogue and presented it through the almost drug trip like experience of rotoscoping (the live action footage was subsequently traced over and redrawn by animators) which rather than hinder or distract the content (some of the discussion is incredibly academic indeed) enables the artist to bring a physical manifestation of some of the extremely intellectual concepts proposed and again make them more coherent, all with a sense of play.

Linklater later went on to explore these subjects and form even more so in his wonderful screen adaptation of the Phillip K.Dick novel ‘A Scanner Darkly’ (2006).

The idea behind all the ideas is the arrival of the unnamed protagonist just visiting town for a few days. He’s offered a lift by a random ‘captain’ (who proclaims ‘the sea refuses no river.’) having spontaneously pulled up outside the airport in a car shaped like a boat. In a very carefree spirited way it begins the movie length discussions on existentialism having set sail upon the road of destiny.


With no considered desire of a destination, the protagonist is seemingly and randomly (destiny?) given a place for him to be dropped off. Something happens and we immediately enter the world of his dreams for the rest of the movie. It is here that he has many various and varied conversations with a multitude of people including what dreams mean, their purpose, inspiration and the division (if any) between ‘real’ life, ‘dream’ life and their potential for shared connective ability throughout mankind in general. That slowly broadens into thoughts and views on free will, philosophy, lucid dreaming and their apparent power amongst a whole multitude of other topics, effectively it’s chats about EVERYTHING and what EVERYTHING means, but the whole time with a knowing wry smile and a youthful enthusiasm to seek and absorb all knowledge. The information isn’t pontificated either, just thoughtfully presented, explored and you can agree or disagree, but it certainly gets you thinking for a long time after.

It’s like having the ultimate bar conversation with some of the most interesting forward thinking people on the planet, or in this case dreamnauts exploring the outer regions of the subconscious. Basically is very generous in it’s brilliant desire to encourage individual thinking.

As this whole adventure has just come out on the extremely high standard releases associated with Arrow, it’s beautifully presented on Blu-ray (it really does look fantastic) with a vast range of extras including the commentaries by Linklater and art director Bob Sabiston, a selection of Bob’s short films, a making off featurette and a great deal of other treats including a booklet by David Jenkins about the movie and a guide to Bob’s films by Anthony Nield. So quite a great deal all round to help you further explore the world and your own mind. Buy it now, your destiny awaits.


‘Waking Life’ is out on Blu-ray now.

Steve Clarke

Born in Celtic lands, nurtured in art college, trained by the BBC, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and released onto the battlefront of all things interesting/inspiring/good vibes... people, movies, music, clubbing, revolution, gigs, festivals, books, art, theatre, painting and trying to find letters on keyboards in the name of flushthefashion. Making sure it's not quite on the western front... and beyond.