Favourite Films: Waking Life

I was going to get to this film eventually, so let me post one of my favourite scenes from Richard Linkator’s 2001 film, Waking Life by way as an introduction.

I first watched Waking Life when I was away at university. This is very much a “university” film. It shows up on first year philosophy classes, and now that I have my own university classroom, I often put it on my syllabus. Since this movie is more like a random series of interconnected conversations about life, I can usually find a way to make it relevant for most of my classes. In particular, I love this performance by Kim Krazian because it summarizes my own philosophy on language, storytelling, and why I work the way I do.

I find language is so strange and wonderful because words have no inherent meaning. We assign meaning to them, as human beings creating culture, and then we continue to assign and reassign meanings to them as our lives and history changes. Some find this frustrating and infuriating, but I think that is beautiful.

Since I work with language, I keep Krazian’s first words in mind each and every time I start work on a project. Creation seems to want to be perfect from the start, but it’s not. It can’t ever be, because to think that creation is perfection means that we forget the human element. Words are inert, like she says, which basically means that they’re static. Words don’t change. But the people who approach them, who take them and work with them, they change them. They make them come alive. They will never be perfect–because humans are not–and that is what I am actually after in my own writing. Not the most perfect phrase, but the most perfect expression of our humanity.

Which, of course, means that it’s far messier than I first thought!

The messiness of this film gives me hope. I love the way it has been animated; Linklater filmed all the actors in real time and then effectively animated over their images. So they tower out of their own physical bodies; they push their faces and arms towards the edge of the screen; and they otherwise become dream-like. This movie is ostensibly about a dream, and the inability to tell dream from reality, and it is told from a perspective of an unnamed protagonist as he wanders through these conversations. We are meant, by the end, to not be entirely sure if he was asleep, or awake, or dead, or something else. The ending, and closure in that way, does not matter. It is far more about the connections that he made with people–some moving like Kim Krazian, some strange like the boat car guy, and some downright upsetting like Alex’s Jones’ section of the movie. These conversations are not perfect because human beings are not. We should not strive for that.

Instead, we must absolutely strive for connection. For understanding, communion, and spiritual relief in those moments, because as Krazian says and I whole-heartedly agree, it is those moments that we live for.

I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. And if you want an experience of what it’s like to be in a classroom with me, watch this movie. Write a 500 word reflection on it, and then email it to me. Then you’ve basically done at least one writing exercise my students must do. And hopefully, you’ll learn something from it, like I will hopefully learn something from you, too.

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