August 3rd, 2005

Waking Up

I just watched the first half of Richard Linklater's Waking Life again. I know plenty of folks -- including some whose opinion I hold in very high regard -- hated the film or were so sure of hating it that they didn't even bother watching it. I, on the other hand, was so captivated by it that I watched it multiple times -- I clearly wasn't the only one so taken -- and gave a paper on it long before it was out on video.

Kim had expressed zero interest in seeing it until recently, but for some reason was in the mood to at least have it on the television while she drifted to sleep. She may have seen fifteen minutes of it, perhaps less. But I was delighted to have her there with me, showing cinematic solidarity. I have a hard time watching things by myself, particularly at home. Had she not consented to doing time on the sofa, I would have done something else. Anyway, I know the film well enough that even the second half is once again fresh in my mind. The images really stick with you, which helps to make the words easier to remember.

What struck me this time -- this is my first time seeing it on my television at home -- is how strange it is from the standpoint of tone. Not unlike the Sufjan Stevens show I caught last night -- excellent, from my perspective -- Linklater and his collaborators managed to balance their art precariously on the line between irony and sincerity. The largely silent protagonist's various interlocutors speak passionately and pompously about the deep questions of existence. They are mocked and exalted. We find them sensible and ridiculous. It's a neat trick, one that Linklater also pulled off both in his first feature-length film Slacker -- the obvious counterpart to Waking Life -- and in the more mainstream Hollywood fare of Dazed and Confused and School of Rock. Maybe that makes his work seem too easy, too middle-brow, but it's an approach that works for me.

The other thing I though while watching Waking Life this time is how discussions that seemed far removed from the reality of my life back in 2002 are now as pertinent as can be, a perception reinforced by the experience of seeing Linklater's Before Sunset last year.

Passages that I was sure would bore Kim to tears back then now seem like the sort of thing she might get into under the right circumstances. Indeed, the conversations in the film were eerily like the ones that she and I have been having with each other and with our newfound circle of super-cool conversationalists who have been making Friday nights at Congress such a delight. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. Maybe now is the time for philosophy, at least for us. Maybe now is the time for a revival of existentialism, at least for Kim and me. While it might seem ironic for her intellectual development to circle back to her community-college infatuation with Sartre's Nausea, the logic of that trajectory has a distinct appeal. I'm willing to go along for the ride if she is willing to have me.
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    a memory of Sufjan Stevens singing about an alligator