Waking Life

Wiggins floats off the ground

USA, 2001. Rated R. 99 minutes. Written and directed by Richard Linklater.

This analysis is divided into an introduction and four parts that may be read independently or sequentially.

  I. The Making of Waking Life
 II. The Play-by-Play
III. What It All Means
IV. Yeah, But Is It Any Good?

Parts II, III, and IV contain spoilers and are intended for people who have already seen the film.


Grade: C Analysis and commentary by Carlo Cavagna

Back to Introduction
Back to Part I
Back to Part II

III.  What It All Means: An Analysis

Waking Life is full of difficult questions. What is our purpose in this life, and what is our place in the universe? What is love? What is consciousness? What are dreams? What happens after death? Heady stuff. Most people, caught in mundane existences of workdays and bills, are probably not interested in these issues. They should be, though. For Linklater, to explore these questions is to express our joy at being alive.

Waking Life examines these questions in the framework of a "lucid dream," a term coined by Frederik van Eeden (1860-1932), a Dutch novelist, poet, and practicing physician who studied and classified dreams.1 Simply defined, a lucid dream is the kind of dream in which you know that you are dreaming. The realization is often triggered during the dream by something that seems unusual. According to van Eeden, an important characteristic of lucid dreams is that the dreamer has access to all his mental functions and memories, and is able to make choices.

More recent research on lucid dreams has been done at Stanford University by Stephen LaBerge, who has empirically proven the existence of the phenomenon. A doctor of psychophysiology and founder of the Lucidity Institute (a center to explore the potential of lucid dreaming), he has mapped mind-body relationships during dream states and written a guide on how to have and use lucid dreams, called Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.

In Waking Life, the unnamed protagonist (Wiley Wiggins) realizes that he is dreaming when he is unable to do simple things like read an alarm clock or turn lights off. In his dreamscape, he floats from person to person and conversation to conversation, listening to the assorted musings, theories, and rantings of a wide cross-section of scientists, activists, street philosophers, and barroom oddballs--well over 30 of them. Some conversations don't even include the protagonist, as the film occasionally drifts around on its own. Waking Life mentions many Great Thinkers as it ruminates on existentialism, psychology, quantum physics, evolution, and so on. According to the official Waking Life site,

The ideas of the following thinkers and philosophers influenced this film: Jean Paul Sartre, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Alexander the Great, Stephen La Berge, Robert Solomon, Plato, Nietzsche, Benedict Anderson, Albert Schweitzer, Andre Bazin, Francois Truffaut, Guy Debord, Robert Louis Stevenson, DH Lawrence, Thomas Mann, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Philip K. Dick, WB Yeats, Garcia Lorca.

Sifting through the smorgasbord of influences and topics, the ideas in Waking Life can be organized into five interrelated but distinct themes. First, we all have free will, and we must exercise it to define our lives. Second, exercising free will places us at odds with society. Third, art can change society. Fourth, reality is subjective. Fifth, humanity shares a collective unconscious that we can access through our dreams, which are every bit as important and real as what we consider to be "reality."
As Waking Life does not follow a traditional storyline--the vignettes thematically interrelate but are discrete and narratively disconnected from one another--it is difficult to analyzing Waking Life and discuss its influences without a guide to the film. Click here for Carlo's scene-by-scene description of the film. It will open in a separate window so that you may refer to it while reading this analysis. For convenience, Carlo has numbered the scenes and referred to them by their numbers in this analysis.

Existentialism and free will

Existentialism is introduced obliquely in the boat-car (scene 2) and overtly in by University of Texas professor Robert Solomon in scene 3, who argues that existentialism, as espoused by French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980), is not a fatalist, depressing philosophy. Even though it holds that the universe is absurd and meaningless, Solomon believes existentialism is empowering, because it asserts that we have free will. Free will permits us to shape each of our own existences and create meaning through the choices we make.

Many of the other theorists mentioned in the film and on the official site emphasize the primacy of the individual and freedom of will, like Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a prolific Danish writer generally acknowledged as a precursor of existentialism (see scene 32).2 Also influential on the development of existentialism was St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), a Dominican friar who addressed and rejected arguments against the freedom of the will in his Summa Theologiae,3 drawing heavily from the teachings of Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) on rational human thought.4 The roots of existentialism also trace back to St. Augustine (354-430), who in his Confessions analyzes his own life and the choices he made before his conversion to Christianity. Written as a conversation with God, Confessions emphasizes personal responsibility before God and argues that evil results from the misuse of free will.

St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas are mentioned explicitly in scene 9. In their day, people who doubted free will did so on the grounds that God knows everything in advance. Today, free will is similarly called into question by physical science because our bodies, composed of water and electrical impulses, are governed by physical laws at the atomic and subatomic levels. Despite this, Waking Life argues that we must find room for individuality, because who we are must be a product of the free choices we make. Otherwise, life is without meaning. Similarly, in scene 11, we are admonished to liberate ourselves from the negative, which is our own will to nothingness.

The stakes are high. In scene 5, the scientist argues that acts of free will are necessary to continue the evolutionary process. If we don't exercise free will to evolve, we end up as passive observers, or worse--like the bilious prisoner in scene 8, who is a prisoner of anger and hate more than he is a prisoner of his cell, or the gun control advocates in scene 17. They are quite a contrast to the more enlightened individuals who populate the rest of the film (as well as a potshot at the gun lobby). Another warning comes in scene 15 from Louis Mackey, a colleague of Robert Solomon at the University of Texas who also appeared in Slacker. Continuing a thought that had been cut out of Slacker, he declares the gap between Plato and Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between the average human and a chimp. Most of us never reach our potential. Is the most universal human characteristic fear, or laziness?

The reference to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is not random. Nietzsche wrote about the "will to power," about how actuating our potential requires an act of individual free will. In an unpublished note from 1873, Nietzsche wrote:

For what purpose humanity is there should not even concern us: why you are there, that you should ask yourself: and if you have no ready answer, then set for yourself goals, high and noble goals, and perish in pursuit of them! I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible.5

Of course, pursuing high and noble goals requires overcoming the fear and particularly the laziness that Mackey speaks of, as well as the passivity (born of fear) described by the self-immolator (scene 6), the conspiracy theorist (scene 10), and the anarchist youths (scene 21).

The reference to Plato (427-347 B.C.) is more general. As the Big Daddy of philosophy, he has influenced all philosophical discourse in some way. He was the first to write about the issues covered in Waking Life, and that's probably why Mackey threw him in. In addition, Plato believed that the physical world is a corrupted reflection of abstract ideals, which is a notion easily linked to archetypes, dreams, and liminal experiences.

In scenes 22 and 23, Waking Life returns to the idea that the present moment is always the most exciting time to be alive. In scene 25, "Speed" Levitch reiterates in his own unique way the need to participate fully in life. During his bizarre monologue, he mentions German novelist Thomas Mann (1875-1955). Mann's works explore the relationship between the exceptional individual and his or her environment (echoes of Nietzsche), and Levitch quotes him as saying that he'd rather participate in life than write a hundred stories.

The tension between individual empowerment and society

Waking Life has a negative view about the possibility of exercising free will within the confines of society. Disempowering us, society reduces us to passive observers. It is inimical to individuality and free will. This view is first expressed through the startling self-immolation in scene 6, and returned to again by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in scene 9. Anarchist youthsHis anarchist pronouncements are similar to those made in scene 21 by the four youths, who include Adam Goldberg and Nicky Katt from Dazed and Confused; Katt was also in Linklater's subUrbia. Their slogans are clearly anarchist, rejecting the restrains and limitations of our consumer society. As the passing old man says in scene 28, "Being swept along is no longer enough."

In scene 24, Waking Life compares society to an ant colony, where the purpose of everything people do is to keep the world buzzing in an efficient manner. English novelist and poet D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) is mentioned. A common theme in Lawrence is that the modern industrialized world has produced alienation, dehumanization, and artificiality--an idea consistent with the writings of several thinkers mentioned in Waking Life.

In scene 25, Levitch names Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), who had similar views. Executed in Spain by firing squad in 1936, Lorca was an Andalusian poet known as the "gypsy poet" because of his semi-mythical subject matter and rhythmic style. He also wrote more modern, tortured, and surrealist poems in the collection Poet in New York, about his unhappy nine-month stay at Columbia University in 1929-1930. Like Lawrence, these poems treat the alienation and brutality of the huge industrialized city ("Dawn arrives and no one receives it in his mouth/Because morning and hope are impossible there").

The purpose and role of art in society

Waking Life has strong views on what role art and film should play in society. A discussion about film theory takes place in scene 20. It is foreshadowed by the chimp projectionist in scene 14 and by the novelist in scene 16, who believes collections of people and moments (i.e., not traditional narratives) are the best stories, which not coincidentally also describes Linklater's own films.

In scene 20, filmmaker Caveh Zahedi6 talks about French film theorist and critic André Bazin (1918-1958), one of the first to write about film as a serious artistic medium and an advocate of cinema as "art de la réalité." As Zahedi explains, Bazin believed that film is an inferior narrative medium (literature is better for stories) because everything in a film is specific. You can't just write about a stranger sitting at a table and draw on the reader's imagination; film puts a specific stranger at a specific table. What film does best is reproduce moments of reality. Because Bazin equated reality with God, capturing the reality of a moment meant capturing God. Bazin called this a "holy moment."7 Criticizing Hollywood for using film as a storytelling medium, Zahedi also quotes François Truffaut (1932-1984), the French filmmaker who began his career as a critic and protégé of Bazin.8 Truffaut commented that the best scripts don't make the best films because if the script is too good, the filmmaker ends up following it too slavishly.

In the next scene, the anarchist youths encounter a "Mr. Debord," who is a clue to Linklater's inspirations for Waking Life. Debord quotes the Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894):9 "Suicide carried off many. Drink and the devil took care of the rest." All this is a clear reference to renowned anarchist filmmaker and author Guy Debord (1932-1994). Debord's most famous work is Society of the Spectacle (1967), which became a manifesto of the 1968 student revolts in Paris. Building on the ideas of Nietzsche, the anarchists, and the surrealists, Debord wrote that media and technology ("the spectacle") have reduced people to voyeurs of their own lives, with all their needs and desires commodified (this recalls the words of the self-immolator and the conspiracy theorist). Debord helped found the Situationist International, a group of activist artists who, like the surrealists, wished to transcend the separation of art and society to make art a part of everyday life.10

This is, of course, exactly what Linklater hopes to do with Waking Life. For the Situationists, the way of erasing the separation was not through political revolution, but by reinventing everyday life. Changing widely held perceptions of reality and liberating one's own self--what Waking Life ultimately advocates--is the same thing as transforming society. Like Nietzsche and Sartre, the Situationists said that individuals should live to their potential by constructing the "situations" of their own lives (thus the source of their name). Unfortunately, after 1968, Debord constructed a situation of alcohol abuse and eventually shot himself in the heart--Stevenson's drink, suicide, and, perhaps, the devil, took care of Debord.

The subjectivity of reality

The idea that all existence is subjective is first voiced in scene 4, by the woman who says that words mean different things to different people. The scientist's description of a "neo-human" no longer restricted by time and space in scene 5 also presupposes that time and space are subjective.

The notion that all perception is subjective traces back at least as far as René Descartes (1596-1650), who studied the relationship of the mind to the body and wrote that the only thing we can be sure of is that we exist ("I think; therefore, I am"). Descartes goes on to "prove" that everything does exist, reconstructing God and the world around us piece by piece. But he begins with the premise that we must doubt everything but our own existence.

The idea that reality is subjective was given scientific legitimacy by physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955). The simplest way to explain the principle at work behind Einstein's theory of relativity is to take an example of an elevator falling at constantly accelerating speed. Imagine that there are people in the elevator, and that generations of people can live and die in the time it takes the elevator to fall. The falling elevator is the only reality these people know, and in their reality, gravity would not appear to exist. If a person were to let go of a pen at eye level, for example, it would continue to float there. Alex Jones shouts about conspiraciesOutside the elevator, we know the pen floats because both the pen and the person are falling at the same accelerating rate. But inside the elevator, they would assume a gravity-free system, and there would be absolutely no evidence to the contrary. Though they do not know it, their physics is subjective and only applies within the elevator. Now imagine that we--the entire universe that we know--are in a kind of elevator. Einstein believed that the rules of physics that our minds perceive are not necessarily the rules that govern all of reality. His goal was to define rules that are valid for all frames of reference.11

Waking Life returns again and again to the idea that reality is no less subjective than dreams, and that there is no difference between the two. One of the comments by the anarchists in scene 21 also points to the subjectivity of reality, which for them is an empowering concept. ("If the world that we are forced to accept is false and nothing is true, then everything is possible.") Thus, the subjectivity of reality increases the importance of free will instead of diminishing it, because our existences are full of possibility.

Identity is also subjective. In scene 13, Waking Life brings up Benedict Anderson, a noted Cornell University international relations theorist whose concept of "imagined communities" has influenced psychology and philosophy. In his 1983 book, Imagined Communities, Anderson sought to explain nationalism as a phenomenon born from an imagined common identity among groups of people who have never met and are otherwise dissimilar.12 Though similar to the concept of a collective unconscious, the two women apply Anderson's ideas to individual identity. We are always changing. The immutability of an individual's identity at various stages of her life is only imagined in her mind, and yet that imagined common identity is what has allowed her to remain essentially herself. This idea is later echoed in scene 26 by the guy who tells the protagonist that he is seeing only a mental image of himself.

Dreams and the collective unconscious

Opening with the aphorism, "Dream is destiny," Waking Life is all about dreams. It comes explicitly to the subject of dreams in scene 7, during which Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke mention Timothy Leary, who was fascinated by the fact that we continue to have brain activity for six to twelve minutes after death. If hours of dreams can take place in between clicks of the snooze button, is it not possible that we could experience our whole lives in those six to twelve minutes? That dream could be our afterlife.

Delpy and Hawke next turn to the collective unconscious, theorizing that the idea of reincarnation is just a poetic expression for collective memory. This brings us to Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), who is quite inexplicably not mentioned as an influence on the official Waking Life site. The father of depth psychology, Jung believed that not all that defines us can be explained through Freudian analysis, because there is more to us than formative childhood experiences and repressed infantile desires. We also draw from our heritage as members of the human race, or our "collective unconscious," which we often access in our dreams. For Jung, the unconscious is not subordinate to our conscious minds, but rather the foundation on which our conscious minds are based. All humans share a collective memory and the same mental processes. This is why we tend to respond similarly to certain symbols, ideals, and human dilemmas, which he called archetypes. Archetypes, not surprisingly, are often found in myths--our earliest and most resonant stories.13

Though controversial, Jung's ideas have been accepted by many scientists and psychologists, some of whom have tried to explain the mechanics of a collective unconscious. Many believe we have "genetic memories" encoded in our DNA, and that they come from the same place as inherited animal instincts. Others, such as Michael Talbot, have begun with the premise that all perception is subjective, which Waking Life agrees with. Data is encoded and transmitted from our sensory organs to our brain and there decoded into images, sounds, and smells. How do we know that our brains' interpretation matches the reality around us? Building on the work of Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram and Universe of London physicist David Bohm, Talbot posits time and space as three-dimensional projections of the psyche. These "holograms" are the brain's way of reading the information it receives, which, interestingly, it stores remarkably similarly to how a holographic data is stored. Therefore, it is physically possible for the mind to travel through time and space (as they are only mental constructs) and interact with other minds, which would explain both the collective unconscious and extra-sensory phenomena.14

As evidence of a collective unconscious, Hawke and Delpy discuss how the same results in science and art seem to pop up independently and simultaneously across societies and cultures throughout history--something Jung noted. Hawke talks about a study that found a random group performed significantly better on day-old New York Times crossword puzzles than on brand-new ones, which suggests that once hundreds of people have done a crossword puzzle, it becomes easier for others, because the knowledge is "out there" in our collective mind.15

In scene 12, Waking Life turns specifically to liminal experiences; i.e., experiences that punch through the veil of ordinary perception to…Something--call it the collective unconscious, the Divine, Enlightenment, or whatever you wish. Scene 12 begins to relate dreams to free will. The collective unconscious and free will may appear to be contradictory principles, but Waking Life is perhaps arguing that individual free will and collective identity are two complementary poles that together define the whole of existence. Create our individuality and transcending ordinary reality through lucid dreams (or otherwise) are two sides of the same coin.16

Liminal experiences include lucid dreams. In scenes 18 and 27, Professor Mary McBay (producer Anne Walker-McBay's mother) explains lucid dreaming and dream travel; i.e., having a liminal experience or accessing the collective unconscious through dreams. Waking Life elaborates on lucid dreams in scene 19, and suggests dreams are just as real as anything else. Because our neural activity makes no distinction between dreaming and waking perception, life is a form of dream travel. Therefore, by attaining lucidity in dreams, we attain lucidity in life. Speed LevitchIn scene 25, Levitch uses a Lorca quote to caution those who do not embrace dreams: "The iguana will bite those who do not dream," a vivid if obtuse warning.

The idea of a collective unconscious that acts as a repository for all human knowledge is reinforced by the novelist who in scene 16 observes that he's "reading it first," then writing the novel, implying that he's channeling the story from Somewhere (the collective unconscious?) and foreshadowing the Philip K. Dick discussion in scene 33. Similarly, in scene 24, the protagonist marvels about how he's being exposed to information and ideas in his lucid dream that he knows for a fact do not come from himself, and therefore must have an external source.

As it approaches the finale, Waking Life gravitates to the notion that the afterlife is a dream without end. The protagonist observes in scene 24 that this dream feels like it's the dream, as if he's being prepared for something. In scene 30, Mona Lee says, "Life was raging all around me and I loved every moment of it," suggesting she is dead, and therefore the protagonist is also in the world of the dead. In scene 32, a passerby quotes Kierkegaard's last words ("Sweep me up").

Finally, in scene 33, Linklater himself appears. The protagonist desperately tells him that he's starting to believe he is dead. Linklater responds with a long story about noted science-fiction author Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), who wrote about the nature of reality and consciousness, including the stories that formed the basis of Blade Runner and Total Recall.

Dick once wrote things into a novel, believing them to be pure fiction, only to learn later that they were true. The novel in question is Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, a book that (according to Linklater) Dick wrote "really fast," as if he was channeling it from somewhere. Dick himself described his "baffling" experience in a 1978 speech titled "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later":

In 1970 I wrote a novel called Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. One of the characters is a nineteen-year-old girl named Kathy. Her husband's name is Jack. Kathy appears to work for the criminal underground, but later…we discover that actually she is working for the police. She has a relationship going on with a police inspector. The character is pure fiction. Or at least I thought it was.

Anyhow, on Christmas Day of 1970, I met a girl named Kathy--this was after I had finished the novel, you understand. She was nineteen years old. Her boyfriend was named Jack. I soon learned that Kathy was a drug dealer. I spent months trying to get her to give up dealing drugs…. Then, one evening as we were entering a restaurant together, Kathy stopped short and said, "I can't go in." Seated in the restaurant was a police inspector whom I knew. "I have to tell you the truth," Kathy said. "I have a relationship with him"…

In 1974 the novel was published by Doubleday. One afternoon I was talking to my priest…and I happened to mention to him an important scene…in which the character Felix Buckman meets a black stranger at an all-night gas station, and they begin to talk. As I described the scene…my priest became progressively more agitated. At last he said, "That is a scene from the Book of Acts, from the Bible! In Acts, the person who meets the black man on the road is named Philip--your name"…

I went home and read the scene in Acts. Yes, Father Rasch was right; the scene in my novel was an obvious retelling of the scene in Acts...and I had never read Acts… But again the puzzle became deeper. In Acts, the high Roman official who arrests and interrogates Saint Paul is named Felix--the same name as my character. And my character Felix Buckman is a high-ranking police general; in fact, in my novel he holds the same office as Felix in the Book of Acts: the final authority. There is a conversation in my novel which very closely resembles a conversation between Felix and Paul.

Because of this baffling experience, Dick theorized that time is an illusion (not unlike Talbot's holographic paradigm) and he had somehow seen through it. Being religious, Dick guessed that we are all actually existing in 50 A.D. (when the Book of Acts takes place), and that someone has created time to distract us from the fact that God is imminent.17

Linklater then recounts a life-changing dream of his own, in which he meets Lady Gregory, the patron of Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).18 She tells him that Dick was partly right. Time is an illusion, because there is only "this instant." In this instant, God extends an invitation to us, an invitation to join him. Time is created by us postponing the invitation, saying "No, thank you; no, thank you." Lady Gregory concludes, "Life is the journey from the no to the yes." Then Linklater realizes that everyone in his dream is dead, and that he's actually visiting the land of the dead.

At the end, the protagonist awakens in bed one last time. Outside, he walks down the street on a beautiful fall day. Soon he begins to float again, his hand resting for a moment on the door handle of a car, just like the boy in the beginning of the movie. Letting go, he rises up into the sky. Has he finally accepted God's invitation?19



1. See "A Study of Dreams," published in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. 26) in 1923. [back]

2. See, for example, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments: A Mimical-Pathetical-Dialectical Compilation, An Existential Contribution (1846), written under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus. [back]

3. See Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 83. St. Thomas Aquinas constructed the Summa Theologica as a series of questions, with the arguments against his conclusions clearly laid out first and then addressed in turn. Rejecting the notion that Christianity is deterministic, he writes that humans, unlike other creatures, are capable of making decisions that go contrary to our natural instincts, and that free will derives from God. [back]

4. Aristotle believed in free will because (unlike animals) we have a rational intellect, and therefore we can attain abstract and universal knowledge, and transcend material conditions. Aristotle questioned our purpose in the universe by asking what the "final cause" of things is. Aristotle wrote that there are four causes in nature that explain events. The first three causes (material, formal, and efficient) explain how things happen. The fourth cause, the "final cause," explains why things happen--to what greater end? In essence, final cause asks, why are any of us here? Aristotle's distinction between active and passive intellect may also be relevant to Waking Life. Though his writings are not clear on this point, some commentators believe that Aristotle understood the active intellect to be something divine that transcends the individual mind (which sounds almost Jungian--more on Carl Jung to follow). [back]

5. See www.nietzsche.f2s.com/Nietzsche_info/biography.htm [back]

6. Caveh Zahedi has made a half dozen or so experimental autobiographies/mockumentaries. These include A Portrait of Caveh Zahedi as a Complete Failure (staged as if it were made by someone other than Zahedi), I was Possessed by God (in which he attempts to reproduce a transcendent episode he once had on a hallucinogenic mushroom trip, which demonstrates that, like Linklater, he is interested in dream travel and liminal experiences), I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore, and A Little Stiff. Zahedi has won awards from the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Film and Video Festival, the Athens International Festival, and the Atlanta Film and Video Festival. [back]

7. Bazin favored the European neo-realists and was suspicious of conspicuous film editing and directorial tricks, believing that the camera should simulate a person's eye. For that reason he praised long takes and depth of field. One of his favorite movies was Citizen Kane, a film full of editing and directorial tricks--but also full of long takes and depth of field. See www.unofficialbaziniantrib.com for more. [back]

8. In 1953, Truffaut began writing for Bazin's new magazine, Les Cahiers. Truffaut's first full-length feature film, The 400 Blows, was begun when Bazin died and dedicated to him. First shown in 1959 at Cannes, it launched the French "New Wave." [back]

9. Stevenson wrote for both children (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Black Arrow, A Child's Garden of Verses) and adults (The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, Olalla, The Ebb-Tide). Of interest to Waking Life is that Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde supposedly originated in a dream (as did Olalla) and deals with duality and degeneration. The enraged, vengeful prisoner in Waking Life is the Mr. Hyde lurking in all of us. [back]

10. Linklater's characters don't refer to Andre Breton, a leader of the surrealist moment, but they may as well. Breton believed that art can radically transform the world. In Breton's Second Manifesto of Surrealism, he wrote:

Surrealism declares that it is able, by its own means, to uproot thought from an increasingly cruel state of thralldom, to steer it back onto the path of total comprehension, return it to its original purity. [back]

11. This simple example is taken from Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, New York: William Morrow, 1979, pp. 180-208. [back]

12. In Imagined Communities, Anderson wrote:

I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community--and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion…

The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind…

It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm…

Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings. [back]

13. Jung himself provides a concise summary of how he believed the collective unconscious manifests itself in dreams:

Significant dreams…are often remembered for a lifetime… I have…found a peculiarity that distinguishes them from other dreams: they contain symbolical images which we also come across in the mental history of mankind…[i.e.,] specific forms and groups of images which occur not only at all times and in all places but also in individual dreams, fantasies, visions, and delusional ideas. Their frequent appearance in individual case material, as well as their universal distribution, prove that the human psyche is unique and subjective and personal only in part, and for the rest is collective and objective.

From "On the Nature of Dreams," which can be found in The Collected Works of Jung, Vol. 8. [back]

14. See Michael Talbot, The Holographic Universe, Harper Perennial Library, 1992. [back]

15. I have been unable to verify the existence of this study, but presume (or hope) that Linklater would not have put it in the film if it weren't true. [back]

16. After completing my first draft of this essay, I was excited to learn that Jung has written something very similar. Defining one's self as an individual does not mean breaking free of our collective identity. Ideally, there should be no tension between the two. He wrote:

I use the term 'individuation' to denote the process by which a person becomes a psychological 'in-dividual,' that is, a separate, indivisible unity or 'whole.' (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious)

But again and again I note that the individuation process is confused with the coming of the ego into consciousness and that the ego is in consequence identified with the self, which naturally produces a hopeless conceptual muddle. Individuation is then nothing but egocentredness and autoeroticism. But the self comprises infinitely more than a mere ego… It is as much one's self, and all other selves, as the ego. Individuation does not shut one out from the world, but gathers the world to oneself. (The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche)

As quoted in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Aniela Jaffé, ed., New York: Vintage Books, 1989, at 395-6. [back]

17. I have not been able to verify this 50 A.D. theory. This is all according to Linklater. [back]

18. An Irish poet and nationalist, Yeats was the most important figure of the Irish literary renaissance of the early 20th century. Many of his works drew from Irish legend and the occult. [back]

19. Three influences cited on the official Waking Life site are not mentioned by name in the film. They are:

Continue to Part IV

Analysis and commentary © January 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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