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Waking Life Richard Linklater

August 30, 2015

WLThis is the story of a boy who 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 adventure.

Are dreams an escape from reality or reality itself? Waking Life follows the dream(s) of one man and his attempt to find and discern the absolute difference between waking life and the dreamworld. While trying to figure out a way to wake up, he runs into many people on his way; some of which offer one sentence asides on life, others delving deeply into existential questions and life’s mysteries.

Can we control our dreams? What are they telling us about life? About death? About ourselves and where we come from and where we are going? The film does not answer all these for us. Instead, it inspires us to ask the questions and find the answers ourselves.

The film works on two levels: On one level, it’s the story about a guy who’s trying to “wake up” from a metaphorical sleep of ignorance and unawareness. On a second level, which is more speculative and ambiguous than the first, it’s the story about a guy who has just died and is experiencing nearly 120 minutes of post-mortal consciousness.
In Seeking “Holy Moments” at the Movies, one blogger wrote: Midway through Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) — a wonderful film that is equal parts documentary, animation, philosophical enquiry, and bildungsroman — a remarkable thing happens: Caveh Zahedi, an experimental filmmaker, launches into an impassioned defense of Andre Bazin, the French film critic most known for publishing Cahiers du Cinema and for inspiring the careers of Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Eric Rohmer, among others. What most excites Zahedi is Bazin’s peculiarly Christian film aesthetic, his faith in the cinema as a medium uniquely capable of recording and revealing God’s active presence in our lives. Because God is manifest in all of creation, or so the argument goes, film by its very nature necessarily documents those manifestations, capturing them on celluloid or video and representing them to us in a darkened theater. For Bazin, the master filmmakers are those most adept at filtering out the mind- and soul-numbing white noise of life in the process, thereby offering us brief glimpses of the transcendent. Zahedi argues that, by revealing these “Holy Moments,” film should (though it seldom does) reorient our perspectives not only toward the arts but also toward the beautifully varied and complex creation in which we live. “We walk around like there are some holy moments, and there are all the other moments that are unholy,” he says, his hands gesturing wildly:

But, this moment is holy, right? Then, in fact, film can let us see that. It can frame it so that we see this moment: holy. Holy, holy, holy, moment by moment. But who can live that way? ‘Cause if I were to look at you and just really let you be holy, I would just stop talking. . . . I’d be open. Then I’d look in your eyes, and I’d cry, and I’d feel all this stuff, and that’s not polite. It would make you uncomfortable.

What follows are several minutes of silence as Zahedi and his companion do just that, deliberately engaging one another — and by extension the Waking Life audience — in a truly transcendent “Holy Moment.”

Working from certain assumptions about common grace — particularly, as Richard Mouw has written, the belief that “God also takes a positive interest in how unbelievers use God-given talents to produce works of beauty and goodness” — I would like to follow Andre Bazin’s lead and propose that Christians take a more active and deliberate approach to the arts, in general, and toward film, in particular. Too often Christian commentary, most notoriously among evangelicals, has reduced “the movies” to morally bankrupt mindless entertainment from which we must be protected. Even those Christian critics who are obviously well-versed in matters of aesthetics seem disproportionably concerned with gleaning banalities from, or simply attaching relevant Bible verses to, the latest Hollywood pabulum. I would argue, instead, that the chief goals of the Christian critic are to inspire in film viewers a thirst for the transcendent by intentionally reorienting their expectations, and to equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary in order to become more fully engaged with the medium itself and with the cultures in which it has been produced. The same goals might also be transferred to all church leaders and “regular Christians” who are concerned with finding the proper place for the arts in their lives as God’s creatures among God’s creation. Seeking holy moments, then — like meditation, study, and isolation — becomes a process, a spiritual discipline that, through devotion and practice, can help us to “enter into a conscious and loving contact with God.”


Man with the Long Hair: They say that dreams are only real as long as they last. Couldn’t you say the same thing about life?

Pinball Playing Man: There’s only one instant, and it’s right now. And it’s eternity.

Speed Levitch: Life is a matter of a miracle that is collected over time by moments flabbergasted to be in each others presence.

Young Girl Playing Paper Game: Dream is destiny.

Guy Forsyth: The worst mistake that you can make is to think you’re alive when really you’re asleep in life’s waiting room.

Philosophy Professor: The reason why I refuse to take existentialism as just another French fashion or historical curiosity is that I think it has something very important to offer us… I’m afraid were losing the real virtues of living life passionately in the sense of taking responsibility for who you are the ability to make something of yourself and feel good about life. Existentialism is often discussed as if it were a philosophy of despair, but I think the truth is just the opposite. Sartre, once interviewed, said he never felt once minute of despair in his life. One thing that comes out from reading these guys is not a sense of anguish about life so much as a real kind of exuberance, of feeling on top of it, it’s like your life is yours to create. Ive read the post modernists with some interest, even admiration, but when I read them I always have this awful nagging feeling that something absolutely essential is getting left out. The more you talk about a person as a social construction or as a confluence of forces or as being fragmented of marginalised, what you do is you open up a whole new world of excuses. And when Sartre talks about responsibility, he’s not talking about something abstract. He’s not talking about the kind of self or souls that theologians would talk about. He’s talking about you and me talking, making decisions, doing things, and taking the consequences. It might be true that there are six billion people in this world, and counting, but nevertheless -what you do makes a difference. It makes a difference, first of all, in material terms, to other people, and it sets an example. In short, I think the message here is that we should never write ourselves off or see each other as a victim of various forces. It’s always our decision who we are.

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From → Film

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