Waking Life

Waking Life

I saw Richard Linklater’s excellent, provocative Waking Life last night. The film gets points straight away for giving practical, accurate, still relatively little-known tips on lucid dreaming (John Christensen is hilarious in this little scene). And of course, I’m fascinated by any film that furthers and expands our culture’s capacity to represent and communicate the dynamics and textures of dreaming itself. Bob Sabiston‘s wonderful animation techniques should serve Linklater’s upcoming Philip K. Dick adaptation, A Scanner Darkly, very well.

Art, classically, is meant to transcend its time. But, when I get specifically interested in how film manages to capture the slippery nuances and atmosphere of dreaming (which is often), there’s a certain technological aspect that’s hard to avoid. Films such as Waking Life and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind excite me because technical developments seem to be increasingly successfully married to artistic flair in the effort to depict various dream states and quirks. There is also, I think, a two-way traffic between dreams and technology. Technology exteriorises mental constructs, which in turn create new breeds of metaphor that are ably digested by our dream-generating processes. An incredibly frequent "device" in my dreams is of flipping back and forth between watching a film of something and actually being there. I wonder how this dynamic was experienced by pre-film dreamers? My guess is there was probably some sort of correlate, but that the quality of this dynamic has been evolved in the process of developing film technology.

I’m not entirely sure whether it’s just "special effects" that are starting to enable the depiction of certain dream processes; I suspect it’s a combination of this, and an increasing interest in dreams, a will to share this odd other half of our lives. It’s always a wonderful feeling to experience art that gives you a sense of connection by expressing things you’ve thought or felt that don’t seem to have been expressed elsewhere. I find this particularly potent when characteristics from dreams are represented accurately. It’s very visceral, surprising and affirmative. The bit in The Holy Mountain, where the protagonist jumps on the fish hook and is hauled to the top of the tower, where Jodorowsky’s alchemist plays his chakras like psychosomatic percussion—the whole dynamic of the interaction between these two characters as they meet flummoxed me with its resonance with some scenes from my dreams. Jodorowsky’s training in mime, of course, and his potent lack of concern with appearing silly, evoked dreamtime logic better than many misapplied uses of special effects. There’s the character in Eternal Sunshine at the book shop desk who, aside from blurring a little, just won’t turn round. That’s familiar. And there’s the brilliant scene where Joel takes the piss out of Clementine’s idea for "waking up" for being too simplistic, only to find that it works—who hasn’t explored lucid dreams and had that shock of the power of simple, direct actions?

The bit in Waking Life that made me feel like someone else has been there was the pinball-playing guy’s description of meeting a psychic in a dream, and being really cynical about them. Then he suddenly found himself rising up in the air, and was like, "Whoah! I believe you!"

With philosophical ideas, especially trippy ones about ontology, seeping more and more into the mainstream, boundaries are dissolving, and people are insecure. Some people seem to dive in, wide-eyed, and the net is full of their speculations on The Matrix. Equally, many react against these cultural artefacts of growing philosophical awareness, dismissing them and their believers, usually with the phrase "half-baked" somewhere in the mix. Both seem to think that films are supposed to present some kind of coherent philosophical position; they only disagree on whether something has succeeded or failed. I think films, like dreams, are more about possibilities than truth, and wrote a post on IMDb in a probably vain attempt to counter the mostly half-baked criticisms of half-bakedness.