When we caught up with director Richard Linklater at this year's Sundance Film Festival for the world premiere of his free-association animated film, Waking Life, things got almost as surreal as in the movie itself, which explores such philosophical conundrums as how you can ever be sure you're awake or asleep
As the director of Slacker and Dazed and Confused explained his interest in "lucid dreaming" — trying to be aware that you're dreaming and even controlling what happens in your dreams — he got up to perform the same test a character performs in the film: turning a light switch on and off.
'I Must Be Asleep Right Now!' In the movie, which opens this weekend, Wiley Wiggins (the unfortunate subject of all that paddling in Dazed) keeps trying and failing to wake up, and then realizes he's still sleeping when flicking a light switch has no effect. When Linklater performed the same action — in real life — he got the same result as his dreaming movie character. "Wow, guess I must be asleep right now!" he said, caught off guard by life unexpectedly imitating art. The film starts out with the quote "dream is destiny," which Linklater says is "kind of autobiographical. I've always been real interested in dreams and reality. I was just trying to capture something of the dream state, sort of a 'how-to' manual [on how to dream lucidly]. Linklater says everyone has different dream symbols, but "mine just happened to be light and digital imagery, such as digital clocks, I seek those out in real life."
"What I just did there, trying to turn the light off, — if you just do that in your waking life enough, [it's] the trick to knowing whether you're dreaming; start training yourself when you are awake. No one ever asks themselves [whether they're dreaming] when they're awake, but if you do ask yourself that when you're awake, you're more likely to [be able to] do it when you're asleep. 'What am I doing here? My grandmother died 10 years ago, what am I doing in her house?'"
Mining His Own Dreams He adds that a lot of the dialogue in the film was taken from his own dreams. "A lot of the film came out of my own dream research, if you want to call it that. There's a big institute up at Stanford called the Lucidity Institute — they have a lot of machines, and they test stuff. I like the science of it — it's not just some 'out there' new agey thing."
The Texas-based director isn't exactly known for making blockbusters, but even this independent director admits that it was "beyond risk" to make an animated, non-linear film.
"If I ever stepped back and said, 'How is this going to fit into the real world of distribution and marketing,' it was depressing to have to think about that end of it," he said of making the free-association flick with a handful of Austin, Texas, artists, who all hand-drew animated cels over live action in a process known as rotoscoping.
"I just knew I liked working on it, and I felt really strongly about it," he says, admitting that some people had problems with the non-linear story of his first film, Slacker, too. " A lot of people walked out [of Slacker]. You have to accept it in its own terms and [let] it live by its own rules. Waking Life is [also] an experimental narrative and, yet, it is a narrative, much more narrative than Slacker [was]."