Waking Life

Critics Consensus

Waking Life's inventive animated aesthetic adds a distinctive visual component to a film that could easily have rested on its smart screenplay and talented ensemble cast.

80%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 143

87%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 61,398
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Movie Info

A boy has a dream that he can float, but unless he holds on, he will drift away into the sky. Even when he is grown up, this idea recurs. After a strange accident, he walks through what may be a dream, flowing in and out of scenarios and encountering various characters. People he meets discuss science, philosophy and the life of dreaming and waking, and the protagonist gradually becomes alarmed that he cannot awake from this confusing dream.

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Critic Reviews for Waking Life

All Critics (143) | Top Critics (36)

  • This inventive animated film, which takes Linklater back to his roots in Austin and Slacker, represents a summation of all the philosophical concerns that have defined him as spokesperson for Gen-X.

    Oct 31, 2006 | Rating: B+

    Emanuel Levy

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • The endless philosophising is a bit sophomoric and more jokes would help, but this is one of a kind that grows more absorbing the longer it runs.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…
    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • For a movie heralded as the cutting edge of visual innovation, Waking Life is disappointingly dull in every other respect.

    Nov 6, 2002 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • This is a wildly invigorating, unexpectedly thrilling and even moving film.

    Apr 24, 2002 | Full Review…
  • You'll find more self-involvement and cod philosophising here than in all the world's coffee houses.

    Apr 15, 2002 | Rating: 1/5 | Full Review…

    Richard Luck

    BBC.com
    Top Critic
  • If there was ever a film that made ontological exploration fun, this is it.

    Jan 22, 2002

Audience Reviews for Waking Life

  • Sep 04, 2015
    It's alright, and it deserves credit for being unique and inventive, as well as being well-acted. So it gets credit for being bold. However, almost none of the pseudo-philosophical 'insights' amount to anything more than overcomplicated brain farts.
    Kyle M Super Reviewer
  • Aug 04, 2015
    The animation keeps interesting what Linklater's live-action Slacker didn't always, and it helps that, to some extent, the conversations in this film have a theme. It's engrossing, a real trip.
    Daniel P Super Reviewer
  • Apr 25, 2014
    Richard Linklater is back to his roots by making talkative, do-little experimental films about people rambling on about whatever, you know, because that's exactly what we've been hoping he would do. Yes, even though this came before Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly", it's pretty much a combination of that and "Slacker", which is totally bogus, because Linklater should have gone with "Dazed and Confused" if he was going animate any of his live-action films in this super-psychedelic fashion. Man, this film is kind of weird, and yet, the most interesting thing about it remains the fact that Linklater managed to figure out some way to make an animated film boring, which isn't really too surprising, because you're asking for trouble if you're mixing the cartoons that the kids are into with the over-the-top philosophical mumbo-jumbo that the... college kids are into. Let's be honest, folks, once you grow up, you don't have a whole lot of time to think about this stuff, and I figured once Linklater got out of college he wouldn't have time to come up with all the scholar ramblings that he ever so adorably tried so hard to impress us with in some of his early work. Of course, then again, a few years after this, he did "School of Rock", so he apparently really got into revisiting the old school days for a while in the early 2000s. Yeah, this film needs a serious case of Jack Black, although he looks enough like a panda in real life that if you turned him into a cartoon, he would always end up looking like Po from "Kung-Fu Panda", and that would surely lead to some jerk starting up some philosophical speech regarding panda endangerment or some junk. Whoever says that life would be more exciting if it was animated should probably see this film, and I guess I'm comfortable saying that, because event though this film is a little too much, it has a few things that might keep it going at times. A self-respecting, aggressively dry avant-garde feature, this film naturally underuses Glover Gill's score for fear of having some consistent liveliness or something, but when Gill's efforts do come into play, they prove to be worth waiting for, being themselves abstract, but in an effective way whose classical taste haunts as complimentary to atmosphere to the point of immersing you into the depths of the film, perhaps more so than visual style. I suppose the trippy animation style fits the strangeness of this very experimental film, but it hardly does much beyond exacerbate a sense of distance from humanity to substance, and yet, on the whole, the visual style of this film is commendable, at least in its sheer uniqueness, with a beautiful bounce to coloration and often hypnotic abstractionism to the structuring of imagery. The film is nothing if not stylish, and no matter how sloppy its narrative style is, visual style, in addition to the underexplored musical style excel, making for a technically distinguished and often even breathtaking affair that still has a tendency to place remarkable style over substance. Substance is indeed lacking in this overstylized and abstract project, but if there is a narrative, its uniqueness, alone, is intriguing, and it helps that subject matter dealing with the depths of human interaction, life, existentialism and philosophy has a value to it that is handled so wrong, yet could have been handled right. In all honesty, there are a number of times in which Richard Linklater really does handle this subject matter right, at least as screenwriter, getting a little pretentious, but generally sharp and audaciously thorough in exploring profound philosophical themes that, at least to those open to embracing convoluted ramblings of this nature, really are interesting, maybe even entertaining when Linklater plays with style in a slick enough fashion to sustain occasions of tight pace amid much slowness. I don't exactly address it too much, but I would fancy myself an intellectual who has great admiration for philosophy and extensive thought, so on that level, I'll go so far as to say that I have a great deal of respect for this film which is generally a borderline failure as entertainment, despite intellectual and aesthetic values that are rich enough to provide highlights, some of which give a glimpse of a stronger, more worthy vehicle of worthy themes. Of course, when it's all said and done, more than it tests your intellectual thoughtfulness, the film tests your patience, being yet another overblown misfire of an artistic license by Linklater that primarily squanders your time, and plenty of it. At just over 100 minutes, the film isn't too long, but it is overlong, even in the context of an intentionally aimless, narratively thin and altogether odd structure, bloating filler and dragging many other elements out, but always doomed to be uneven, due to an exhausting amount of layers and segments, between which is rarely fluid transition. The film is all over the place, and reaches its ostensibly intentionally inconsistent beats ever so limply, yet a big reason why it's so uneven is because it barely tried to slow down in a way that allows you to soak up exposition, the lack of which distances you from the depth of characters so inconsequential that even Wiley Wiggins' nameless protagonist or avatar audience role is often abandoned for no sensible reason. As character-driven as this film's pseudo-narrative is, the characters, no matter how dynamic and about as well-portrayed as they can be by talents with little acting material to play upon, feel too much like no much more than mere vehicles for themes, with no real depth to get you dramatically involved into the substance through all of the style. Narrative overstylization betrays substance, and visual overstylization doesn't help, for although the animations and other forms of experimental visuals aesthetically impress, the active dehumanization to the animation further devalues depths that are shaken up enough by the aforementioned unfocused and uneven characterization, and when abstract happenings come into play in the form of anything from random visuals to sequences of avant-garde filler, they further thin a narrative that, as irony would have, is built upon style over substance. Basically a much more intellectually and stylistically experimental take on ideas behind, say, Richard Linklater's "Slacker", this film, as an exploration of strange human interactions and trippy philosophy, has no real narrative, with interesting themes, but too thin of an interpretation for the sake of investment that might be compensated for if the film wasn't so dull. I suppose the patient ought to find some entertainment value to the cleverly, if often pretentiously written chatter, but once you get too used to the for it to entertain, the film is more-or-less nothing if not boring, with a dryness that stiffens pacing which is messed up enough by uneven structuring and an unfocused non-narrative, and aggravates about as much as a sense of pride that looms too prominently throughout the final product. The film fulfills ambition in enough areas to make for an at least borderline decent watch that would have been if there was a charm to Linklater's efforts, but alas, Linklater's project feels more self-congratulatory than endearing in its ambition, and that's frustrating on a level that may not destroy the film, but certainly drives this misguided mess to the brink of contempt. When the dream is done, tasteful scoring and a uniquely remarkable visual style, if not refreshing subject matter that is often done justice by sharp highlights in thoughtful writing and direction provide glimpses of a stronger vehicle for intriguing subject matter, but under the pressure of draggy and uneven structuring, unfocused characterization and a dull dryness to the interpretation of a thin, overly strange narrative, intensified by a sense of pretense, Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" collapses to the brink of contempt as an overwrought experimental portrait on philosophical interactions within, and the thin line between dream and reality. 2/5 - Weak
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 09, 2013
    As with "Slacker", some of the pieces will likely feel more underwhelming depending on the viewer, but as a compilation of concepts and emotions all tied together through the common theme of dreams, "Waking Life" is a much more enjoyable and mature film than "Slacker" in both content and form, an existential rollercoaster that encapsulates all of Linklater's work up until that point (almost literally), while almost daring himself to top it. With this film, though, Linklater's genius as a thinker finally seems to escape its shackles, just as "Before Sunrise" unleashed him as a storyteller who works beyond limitations.
    Sam B Super Reviewer

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