Happy March loves, I hope the new year is treating you all well despite the dense events all around us. One of my girlfriends came up to visit recently. I proudly showed her my new dining table for my apartment. I always ate on my coffee table or bed, but then I made a healthy habit to use my furniture correctly. I did all my writing and teaching at my desk, I used my bed only for sleeping instead of a place to have a midnight snack. And now I had a dining table to eat all my meals and play Connect Four when people came over. That day, we were supposed to be in New York, basking in the East Coast winter, walking through the Brooklyn Bridge and going on ferries, but we made the difficult yet conscious decision to cancel our trip due to rising COVID-19 cases. That Saturday, we helped ourselves to some late Christmas gifts and some late lunch. We caught up with each other, she had just graduated from Berkeley and I was finishing up my teacher certification for English teaching.
We went back to my place, decided to pop in a movie while my dear friend took a nap from our heavy lunch. I had troubles connecting to a streaming services so I headed straight to my DVD collection which has always saved me from power outages or bad internet connection. So many films that required a lot of attention…Interstellar? Maybe Fight Club? Buffalo 66? Perhaps a Hitchcock? I cursed at myself for having such an interest in films that had to be watched several times for any clear understanding. This was a time for something pleasant that required little to no attention. But as I went down my collection, I stopped at Waking Life. I’ve had this film for quite a couple of months, seen the beginning countless of times, but this is one of the films that required my utmost attention. You absolutely must not watch this when you’re trying to just chill with someone, out of the question. Gaby had already knocked out on my couch and I was restful but not quite ready to nap, so I popped the Richard Linklater film on and away I went.
This is your disclaimer, if you’ve been saving it up for the right time because trust me, I know this one has to be prepared for the right time, do not continue reading ahead as I give the summary to those who would rather not venture into the abyss of an existential crisis.
Waking Life, Richard Linklater’s 2001 experimental animated film, showcases several philosophical ideas including free will, determinism, meaning of life, reality, and human consciousness. Very heavy stuff, so heavy I’ve seen this film only in parts, returning when I’m in the right headspace or when I am alone, because if someone is with me forget it, I will start blabbering through it like a director’s commentary cut.
The film begins with two unnamed kids playing with a paper fortune teller more notably known as a “cootie catcher.” The little girl holding the cootie catcher tells the boy, “Dream is destiny,” and the next scene is the little boy in a driveway next to a car. He begins floating upwards to the sky slowly but holds on to the handle of the car door. The entire film then revolves around an unnamed main character, who embarks in multiple conversations with several unknown and notable public figures who each give the character well thought out philosophical topics that range from language to time theories. During these conversations, there are no transitions, no story arc that fortifies why the character is meeting with well known people such as filmmaker Caveh Zahedi or Robert Solomon, a philosophy professor at University of Texas. The only reoccuring pattern is that at times after a conversation, the character transitions into a state of waking up in his bed.
During the first half of the film the character is just a passive onlooker until he meets with a biker who shares with him all that one can do while lucid dreaming. All the kinds of sex one can have, how fun it is to fly through cityscapes, and to prove that one is dreaming, they must simply try turning a light switch on or off, if it doesn’t turn off, there is the answer. As the character is on his way out, he jokingly turns the light switch off and the light does not turn off. Throughout the second half of the film, the character is now engaged with his tangible surroundings as he now realizes that he is stuck in a dream that soon becomes an existential crisis. He becomes uncertain that he’ll ever be able to wake up from his dreams that consist of only philosophical conversations. His last encounter is with a man who is alone playing on a pinball machine. The main character recognizes the man from before, they both rode in the back of a guy’s boat car. The main character begins to tell this man that he can’t seem to truly wake up and continues to have false awakenings. The man shares with him a theory from author of Blade Runner, Phillip K. Dick, about using time as a distraction. He shares that time does not exist and that we may not actually be living in AD, contrary to that, he states that the only time that is real is this instant. This instant, and this is where God is inviting us to be one with eternity. The main character becomes restless and asks him how he can wake up from where ever he is, the man tells him it shouldn’t be too hard, just wake up, he snaps his fingers in front of the nameless character and he enters another false awakening. This time when he gets up, he is seen walking through a driveway to a car, the same one the little boy from the beginning was in. The main character starts to float upwards slowly. His arm reaches for the door handle but takes a small pause instead, and continues to float up in the sky until he is no longer visible.
The credits rolled, my friend unironically woke up from her slumber and asked how the movie was. The film was just so jam packed without any half-assed theoretical bullshit, the ideas and theories that were explored throughout the film left so much room to ponder. Like when writer Kim Krizan talked about how great it was to be able to communicate with one another with language, but the true outstanding fact was that we are able to communicate the intangible, human emotion. Thousands of written works illicit what it’s like to feel love, anger, awareness, or euphoria. Intense feelings that cannot be touched or blatantly seen, yet we are able to convey these abstract concepts through a form of art, a conversation, or an action.
Later into the night, my other dear friend stopped by. We all took some yellow sunshine, Gaby made us some brownies in my small kitchen while my other friend Andres sat in my new dining area. We talked for hours about customer service, bots, and everything else in between. I hadn’t laughed like that in months, I sat there aware and grateful for this night, grateful for having such wonderful friends and for all that I had.
The last character that was playing with the pinball machine in the film was Linklater himself. He said the only time we ever have is right now, right now as you are reading about a night that brings me to a smile every time because that was a time where I woke up to my life, my wonderful life with my new matte black dining table and my best friends that have been with me since high school. And a dose of sunshine.
Remember to wake up today.