J Taylor-Jones’s review published on Letterboxd:
I love a good existential film, I love anything that really makes me think, that, for however long, alters my perception of my own life. Waking Life may just be the pinnacle of that very specific genre.
Dreams fascinate me as it is, often being the subject of my own ponderings and creative endeavours, so to be presented with a piece by Linklater, who I can safely say has become one of my favourite filmmakers, that explores this idea in such a different and deep way was breathtaking.
I am by no means an expert in animation, but I'm going to attempt to praise that first, because, well, it was hard to miss! Initially, the animation style made me feel sick. The constant motion, the vagueness of shapes and of detail and the bright colours just made me feel woozy. As the film went on, I appreciated this more, a lot more, in fact! As the ideas of dreams were explored further, the more meaning the animation style was given, the more significant it became. By the end of the film, the animation style wasn't a stylistic decision, it was a purposefully messy artistic decision that highlights the madness that the main character felt about his relationships to dreams. As with Before Sunrise, Linklater is aware of every aspect of the film in relation to the viewer, his creative vision is extraordinary, this film is certainly a testament to that.
My favourite part of this film was the structure. I love the weird and wonderful, my favourite film is Mulholland Drive, of course I enjoy ambiguity and non-linearism. What it brought to this film was, obviously, the dream logic and dream physics, but it also highlighted a lot of what was being spoken. Within the jumbled narrative, many characters theorise about existence, something my young and overwhelmed mind is constantly doing. Waking Life's story becomes secondary to its exhibition of theories. Linklater cleverly weaves a set of beliefs into the fabric of a story with such incredible force that the two seem to melt into one another. The story is a set of beliefs and the set of beliefs is the story. Each belief is delivered incredibly by a wonderful actor, who, despite being animated over, manages to convey seriously compelling personalities through their voice alone. Many of the nameless characters in this film were the most memorable, being completely exaggerated and wild. I adored how everyone seemed larger than life and so modest, going about their (not so) average lives so casually.
Everything in this film just works incredibly. The characters, the music, the style, the direction, the performances, the editing. Everything feels so right and everything is so unique. I want to revisit this as soon as I can. I have been blown away.
(This film introduces Richard Linklater to my directors league)