Another interesting discussion that takes place in Richard Linklater’s film Waking Life is between two dream figures who are discussing the theories of film critic Andre Bazin (though if you read the introduction to Bazin’s What is Cinema? the “holy moment” theory is actually credited to film critic Michel Mourlet). The discussion that they have in the film reflects many of our class discussions about the limits of representation, and the sublime.
Our two dream figures discuss how film, and film narrative are reproductions or representations of reality, and, as is the case with all attempted representations of the Sublime in photography, literature and film there are limitations to what can be represented. What I found really interesting about the discussion was some of their commentary about how the focus on narrative or storytelling in films can really disrupt or negate the potential for sublime moments in cinema. In contrast to how literature can connect to the sublime through its interaction with our imagination, the narrated representation of ideas can become an obstructive force when it comes to film. This also reminded me a little bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the most moving and sublime moments in that film are essentially music and images without the intrusion of verbal narrative, or even much explanation.
Similarly to Longinus discussing how the loftiness of the written word can take the reader outside themselves, our two dream figures in Waking Life feel that film can produce a form of the spiritual sublime via the framing of holy moments that are not necessarily tethered to a narrative structure. This concept is also seen in Linklater’s structure of the film itself, as narrative structure and storytelling is secondary to the attempts to reproduce moments between The Dreamer and the dream figures he encounters. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of effort put toward making the films scenes fit together narratively, or in any sort of “plot” and it could be said that this specific structure lends itself to producing the films various transcendent moments. Additionally, this take on filmmaking is manifested in the film itself when The Dreamer witnesses a conversation between two people in a coffee shop, one of them being a writer. The writer is asked what he is writing and he replies: “It’s about people. Gestures, moments, bits of rapture, fleeting emotions. In short, the greatest story ever told”
Video clip: Waking Life © 2001