Trying to explain director Richard Linklater’s 2001 animated epic “Waking Life” feels, in some ways, like an exercise in futility to an extent. The “Boyhood” director crafted an ambitious animated film with rotoscoping, using an unnamed protagonist to take viewers through a trippy, surreal experience within a dreamlike state (hence the title). Throughout a variety of intellectual and philosophical discussions, the man tries to make sense of his surroundings, but eventually, he understands that in this “waking life,” he’s just like the audience: a passive viewer who can’t participate.
The movie also features random scenes that have nothing to do with the protagonist, some of which reference the director’s other films. For example, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke joined the movie to play their characters from 1995’s “Before Sunrise” (one of Linklater’s most beloved movies which spawned two carefully considered sequels to date). Ultimately, it all comes together when the protagonist meets a character representing Linklater himself, who attempts to convince the man that he needs to give in to the needs of the universe. “Waking Life” is a slightly baffling movie, but it’s also a beautifully told film about the boundaries of human consciousness.