I am the type of film fan who strives for unique films like Waking Life -- films that challenge the expected structures and the general norm of cinema and lay themselves out as something completely different. This film is less a structured narrative and more a series of informative (life) lessons and convictions. The film basically consists of a series of ‘episodes’ inside one young man’s dreams of different people he encounters giving their thoughts and opinions on life and its meaning.
This is a precursor to writer/director Richard Linklater’s later almost-masterpiece A Scanner Darkly. Like many directors who try out new things (in Linklater’s case it’s the animation technique rotoscoping) and continue it on in a later work, there are early shades of that aforementioned later film. A Scanner Darkly contained the stunning (when used in the right way) technique to virtual perfection, and although Waking Life seems amateurish in its execution of said technique, that is part of its charm. The film varies between really detailed use of the technique to a very loose and extremely cartoonish style. It gives the film a varied look and something interesting for the brain to take in once it’s got used to the initial wonder of the technique itself.
After seeing a fair amount of Linklater’s work it has become very clear to me that he is one of the best screenwriters we have in cinema today. Everything from his hand-in-hand film duo of Before Sunrise/Sunset to even something fun and silly as School of Rock proves that this guy has the gift of the gab, so to speak. He has this ability to make the philosophical and very intelligent conversations that take place within a lot, if not all, of his films seems plausible, even if they aren’t completely realistic. That statement may seem a little on the contradictory side but I can find no other way to describe it. It’s also clear that everything within his films, and especially in Waking Life, has swirled around in his brain before he put pen to paper. After all one must have some sort of vessel through which to channel one’s thought’s and opinions, mustn’t one? (Oh dear, it seems I have been infected by the film's literary mentality).