Monday, September 27, 2010


Director: Richard Linklater
Runtime: 100 min.
Verdict: An interesting little exercise about the fallacy of images.
Genre: Animated, Avant-Garde

        The ideas, the conversations, the long discourses which often turn into ramblings are the least interesting the challenging part of Waking Life. As is common knowledge now, the movie is a dream, or at least hopes to achieve a dream-like state of affairs. What interests me most is how the choice of visuals and the overall narrative structure almost demands of us to watch Waking Life only one way, and that way guided by two rules – (a) Watch it in one go without either a pause or a rewind, and (b) Watch it only once. I mean, if we’re intending to be honest here, and our endeavor is always to be experiencing it the way a film asks us to, and not to fall to the temptation in our capacity as a voyeur to find the overall meaning of it all. I mean, yeah, it could be argued that a lot of so-called dream films ought to be watched in that one way, or to put it better, experienced first and watched later. I don’t know, but something within stops me from watching Un Chien Andalou a second time, or Last Year at Marienbad or Stalker. Every time I do I get the feeling I’m cheating, I’m being dishonest. One could argue here on similar lines about a lot of movies that is, to avoid any debate, not “generally considered or intended” to be a representation of a dream, but certainly not for all of them since so many exist as narrative deals or representations of reality – Jfk, The Third Man, Full Metal Jacket, Politist, Adjectiv – and any argument about them being dreamlike would drown us into philosophical ramblings questioning the very nature of reality, which I seek to avoid here.
        What I instead would want to question here is our retention of the visual medium, and how our memory stores these images. I ask of you, dear reader, if your memories of movies consisting of live-action images – I take random examples (color) in The Color of Money, Desh Premee, All the President’s Men – is more pristine, more solid, or clearer than say images from an animated feature. Take for example Tom and Gerry or A Bug’s Life or Finding Nemo. I do not know, but my memories of the courtroom scenes in A Few Good Men seem to be more vivid than the sea-life of Finding Nemo. Care be taken that when I say memories I’m referring to not just the broad strokes of the images, but the color schemes and patterns. I remember images from Coraline but I do not remember neither the colors of the walls (purple? Or was it pink) and neither the color of her dresses. I would confess here that I’m not exactly enthusiastic for the animated medium (or at least what’s on offer) since my movie-going sensibilities seem to guided quite a lot by voyeuristic pleasures, and that by definition would need something real to be engaged with. More importantly I would like to discourage memories of films, both animated and live-action, where the color scheme is so prominent that our memory stores it as a different file itself, and not as part of the image itself. If I ask you what color is The Matrix, or what color is Underworld, or what color is Waltz with Bashir one would instantly have an answer. But that wouldn’t serve this little exercise. What we need is films with fairly pedestrian color schemes, and then ascertain the vividness of these images. I certainly do remember the colors of the coats and Lefty’s sunglasses from Donnie Brasco. I do not have any definitive answer here, and the only way out here is a collective response. So, yes, I would surely love to know how your memory goes.
        Now, consider the basic idea that cinema (and photography) try to achieve a sense of reality (Bazin’s cinematic reality and “Holy Moment” is one of topics of discussion, as are so many pop-philosophical tent-pole topics, and as I said are really the most banal aspect of this film) . And if cinema were, in essence, to be the approximation of the services rendered by our eye and brain (reality, memory or dreams), is it necessary on our part, as a movie-viewer to meet it halfway, and complete the approximation? I might be rambling here, I do agree, but it feels to me that with some films it is almost morally necessary on our part to experience them just the way we experience reality or dreams – once, with no pauses, and no rewinds. I often feel that the significance of memory in movie viewing is greatly under-appreciated. I mean, movies do exist on film, movies do exist as electrons on DVDs and our hard disks, but sitting there, aren’t they merely static inanimate objects? Isn’t the case that movies actually exist in our memories, where they live and breathe? We sure can watch a movie enough number of times to have our memory of it be a virtual copy, but time does come into picture isn’t it? We still would need memory, unless we would want to be perpetually watching the movie.
        So, that being the case, aren’t there a lot of movies that deserve to be watched only once, so that we feel them and experience them and remember them as we would our life, or our dreams? Waking Life instructed me thus, and I watched it one go, never rewinding even once, pausing a whole lot (I failed on this count), and even though I was lost on quite a few occasions during some of the bull-sessions ,as anybody would if one were to be exposed to a lengthy monologue, I think that is the purpose. Movies are not interactive like say a class of metallurgy, and unless someone constructs and manipulates a scene as brilliant as the opening of Inglorious Basterds where we have no free will of our own but to think the way the filmmaker wants us to think, we’re left on our own. Waking Life constructs itself as a dream, and watching it the way I did, I had little to no control. I was taking the way the film gave it to me.
        Curiously that is what suggests to me that Waking Life asks of us to watch it on the big screen and not on our laptops (where the discipline is thrust upon us). And strangely the visuals, which modern animation so painstakingly creates with so many numerous details, achieves a certain level of diffusion owing to the interpolated rotoscoping. The images float, with the different planes of action dancing around as if sitting on different points of wave, yet there is no depth to them. The different planes are all, in fact, one single plane of action. And as they shape shift and float, there is little we do remember about them, except for the fact that it happened, and an idea of what was spoken, and a vague notion of what it felt like. There’s no way the color schemes could be remembered. As in a dream we’re moving from one moment to the next, and unlike a live action film, the preceding moment except for its content immediately becomes blurred. There’s a strange tension within that moment though, unlike other styles of animation which tend to replicate reality, where these sketches tend to betray their source – the motion capture – and we see glimpses of the structures of those real faces, and it is as if reality is breaking in, or the animation is rupturing. I don’t know, it feels strange when I thought I saw the real Ethan Hawke, or the real Steven Soderbergh in there. Or maybe I remember it that way. By the way, I now remember a moment in the film where Ms. Delpy’s character has her chin resting on her right hand and in the next cut, the left hand is doing the honors. Or vice versa.
        That way Waking Life is a film of great significance in my argument for cinema in that it highlights the fallacy of our worshipping and analysis and appreciation of the medium in terms of images. Quite often, we find our scholars, hold up an image and explain the brilliance of composition. Howsoever fruitful this appreciation of the medium may be, I think it is counterproductive in the way it reduces the medium’s appreciation and analysis to a set of images, as opposed to imagery. We’ve filmmakers today whose aesthetic is dominated by a sense of static energy as opposed to the kinetic. Their films seem stillborn, with no life other than a set of images. I myself have been guilty so many times. The microscope of appreciation ought to involve the motion into the equation, and I believe the best of composition is achieved not through cinematography but by editing. More on that later. Waking Life, meanwhile, is a film that seems to be completely aware of itself, and more importantly aware of the medium. In quite a few moments it directly acknowledged the way I was experiencing it, since there are so many topics where you would want to pose a few questions or throw in your own points. There were occasions I was bored to death, and in the film’s final moments the central figure does admit to the helplessness of it all. I was supposed to be trapped within a movie, and were it not for my indiscipline (I did pause and I did talk on phone and I did watch bits of the cricket match), I would’ve been. Now, I only have memories of it and I think that is how it will be.


Amar said...

It is like 'Werckmeister Harmonies'.Isn't it? As its much discussed Hungarian Director Bela Tarr once famously said : "I despise stories as they mislead people into believing that something is happened. In fact, nothing really happens as we flee from one condition to another."

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

Satish, we had discussed about it. It's a bizarre movie but so are dreams. Hapazard and random but not non-sensical. Juxtapose it with your deepest desires/arguments and show it on celluloid. Creats a solid experimental film. That's what it is.

man in the iron mask said...

Sadanand, I don't seem to say anywhere that Waking Life is nonsensical.
What I rather suggest that the content itself, the discussions so to speak, are meh. I couldn't care less about them. What strikes as interesting is the repercussions of the formal choices Mr. Linklater makes.

LittleRobinBird said...

I remember getting sooo bored while watching the film. Well, it was many years ago, so I don't know how I would feel if I watched it again. Maybe I'd enjoy it?
I write movie reviews too! I'd love to have anyone comment on my posts. Take a look at it!