richard linklater has put the art back into the art-house movie. It's surprising, since he's best known for wordy films (Slackers, Before Sunrise) that have youthful characters asking the big questions: What's the meaning of life? Where do I fit into the scheme of things?
With Waking Life, Linklater takes these questions to a profound level, and, to get us to join him in his search, adds a visual twist.
Wiley Wiggins stars as a college grad who returns to Austin, Texas, where he meets up with an eclectic assortment of individuals who chat about consciousness, reality and dreaming. The hook is that Wiley may be dreaming; in fact, he may be caught up in a dream from which he can't awake.
Waking Life was shot on digital video, but then Linklater brought on computer animator Bob Sabiston, whose team of artists painted over each frame, giving the film a vivid paint-by-numbers look. It's also slightly dizzying, because the foreground and background move separately, creating a see-saw effect.
If you can deal with the motion, then you're in for a very cool intellectual ride. Some critics have called the movie Philosophy 101, but that's dismissive.
One of Linklater's gifts is his ability to invest ideas with poignancy. By the end of Waking Life they've coalesced, and the film's complex notions become at once oh-so-clear and very moving. INGRID RANDOJA
WAKING LIFE written and directed by Richard Linklater, produced by Anne Walker-McBay, Tommy Pallotta, Palmer West and Jonah Smith, with Wiley Wiggins, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Adam Goldberg. 97 minutes. A Fox Searchlight release. Opens Friday (October 19). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 118. Rating: NNNN