Once or twice in life we come across certain kinds of films that either bore us to death or strike us with a fresh revelation. For the remainder of time, most of the movies we encounter fall under forgettable nameless categories and we unconsciously consign them to oblivion as soon as we turn off the screen.
Despite the huge number of movies which populate the industry like swarming gadflies today, it is quite rare to find a flower in the midst of the bevy—that is, to find a film which stirs a certain amount of interest in your mind while at the same time, assaults you with heavy questions which you leave you pondering even after the closing credits.
Whenever I come across a movie of this kind; a movie which knows how to project itself both as a output of a motion picture and as a product resulting from the fusion of both art and philosophy, I always mark them in my mind as a way of remembering the elements of the film, which sometimes come in a form of questions posed and raised throughout the duration of the movie and which serve as a challenge against the passive audience. Films like these are not made only to be seen, to be consumed, but much more to be dissected as a specimen of knowledge.
Richard Linklater’s 2011 film, A Waking Life is a member of this abstract, profound, reason-eliciting film club. It is an exploration of the theories of philosophy embodied in a nameless young man trapped in a series of dreams and saunters from one dream scene to another. He meets all sorts of people who talked about their points of view on human existence. Director Richard Linklater (of Before Sunrise fame) said that some of the conversations were from ideas left out from his other films. It is a visual innovation, which perfectly suits its storyline, as the scenes fade back and forth from live action to animation. It is georgeously trippy and mind-boggling, but leaves you in a heady haze of existential questions and intellectual banter. (Slate, 2014)
Below are some of my favorite scenes culled from the movie. (For context, please refer to wakinglifemovie.net )
So what do you think of my little vessel? She’s what we call “see-worthy.” S-E-E. See with your eyes. I feel like my transport should be an extension of my personality. Voila. And this? This is like my little window to the world, and every minute it’s a different show.
Now, I may not understand it. I may not even necessarily agree with it. But I’ll tell you what, I accept it and just sort of glide along. You want to keep things on an even keel I guess is what I’m saying. You want to go with the flow. The sea refuses no river. The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure while always arriving. Saves on introductions and good-byes.
The ride does not require an explanation. Just occupants. That’s where you guys come in. It’s like you come onto this planet with a crayon box. Now, you may get the 8-pack, you may get the 16-pack. But it’s all in what you do with the crayons, the colors that you’re given. And don’t worry about drawing within the lines or coloring outside the lines. I say color outside the lines. You know what I mean? Color right off the page. Don’t box me in. We’re in motion to the ocean. We are not landlocked, I’ll tell ya that. So where do you want out?
Creation seems to come out of imperfection. It seems to come out of a striving and a frustration. And this is where I think language came from. I mean, it came from our desire to transcend our isolation and have some sort of connection with one another. And it had to be easy when it was just simple survival. Like, you know, “water.” We came up with a sound for that. Or “Saber-toothed tiger right behind you.” We came up with a sound for that.
But when it gets really interesting, I think, is when we use that same system of symbols to communicate all the abstract and intangible things that we’re experiencing. What is, like, frustration? Or what is anger or love? When I say “love,” the sound comes out of my mouth and it hits the other person’s ear, travels through this Byzantine conduit in their brain, you know, through their memories of love or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and they say yes, they understand. But how do I know they understand? Because words are inert. They’re just symbols.They’re dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible.
So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable. And yet, you know, when we communicate with one another, and we feel that we’ve connected, and we think that we’re understood, I think we have a feeling of almost spiritual communion. And that feeling might be transient, but I think it’s what we live for.
A self-destructive man feels completely alienated, utterly alone. He’s an outsider to the human community. He thinks to himself, “I must be insane.” What he fails to realize is that society has, just as he does, a vested interest in considerable losses and catastrophes.
These wars, famines, floods and quakes meet well-defined needs. Man wants chaos. In fact, he’s gotta have it. Depression, strife, riots, murder, all this dread. We’re irresistibly drawn to that almost orgiastic state created out of death and destruction. It’s in all of us. We revel in it. Sure, the media tries to put a sad face on these things, painting them up as great human tragedies. But we all know the function of the media has never been to eliminate the evils of the world, no. Their job is to persuade us to accept those evils and get used to living with them.
The powers that be want us to be passive observers. Hey, you got a match? And they haven’t given us any other options outside the occasional, purely symbolic, participatory act of voting. You want the puppet on the right or the puppet on the left? I feel that the time has come to project my own inadequacies and dissatisfactions into the sociopolitical and scientific schemes, let my own lack of a voice be heard.
On this bridge, Lorca warns, life is not a dream. Beware. And beware. And beware.” And so many think because Then happened, Now isn’t. But didn’t I mention the ongoing ‘wow’ is happening right now? We are all co-authors of this dancing exuberance where even our inabilities are having a roast. We are the authors of ourselves, co-authoring a gigantic Dostoevsky novel, starring clowns. This entire thing we’re involved with called the world, is an opportunity to exhibit how exciting alienation can be. Life is a matter of a miracle that is collected over time by moments, flabbergasted to be in each other’s presence. The world is an exam to see if we can rise into direct experience. Our eyesight is here as a test to see if we can see beyond it. Matter is here as a test for our curiosity. Doubt is here as an exam for our vitality.
Thomas Mann wrote that he would rather participate in life than write 100 stories. Giacometti was once run down by a car, and he recalled falling into a lucid faint, a sudden exhilaration, as he realized that at last something was happening to him.
An assumption develops that you cannot understand life and live life simultaneously. I do not agree entirely. Which is to say I do not exactly disagree. I would say that life understood is life lived. But the paradoxes bug me, and I can learn to love and make love to the paradoxes that bug me. And on really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion.
Before you drift off, don’t forget. Which is to say, remember. Because remembering is so much more a psychotic activity than forgetting. Lorca, in that same poem said that the iguana will bite those who do not dream. And as one realizes that one is a dream figure in another person’s dream, that is self awareness.
Yeah, but I mean like how did you, how did you finally get out of the dream? See, that’s my problem. I’m like trapped. I keep, I keep thinking that I’m waking up, but I’m still in a dream. It seems like it’s going on forever. I can’t get out of it, and I want to wake up for real. How do you really wake up?
I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m not very good at that anymore. But, um, if that’s what you’re thinking, I mean you, you probably should. I mean, you know if you can wake up, you should, because you know someday, you know, you won’t be able to. So just, um … But it’s easy. You know. Just…just wake up.
If you haven’t watch A Waking Life yet, I personally believe that it is worth the time to go and see this Linklater masterpiece.