Waking Life is a live-action rotoscoped film that focuses on the nature of dreams and consciousness. The entire film was shot using digital video and then a team of artists using computers drew stylized lines and colors over each frame.
The title, Waking Life, is a reference to the philosopher George Santayana’s maxim: Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled. The film was Fox Searchlight Pictures' only production using this technique and released in 2001.
Waking Life is about an unnamed young man in a persistent lucid dream-like state. He initially observes and later participates in philosophical discussions of issues such as reality, free will, the relationship of the subject with others, and the meaning of life.
“Dreams. What are they? An escape from reality or reality itself? Waking Life follows the dream(s) of one man and his attempt to find and discern the absolute difference between waking life and the dreamworld. While trying to figure out a way to wake up, he runs into many people on his way; some of which offer one sentence asides on life, others delving deeply into existential questions and life's mysteries.
We become the main character. It becomes our dream and our questions being asked and answered. Can we control our dreams? What are they telling us about life? About death? About ourselves and where we come from and where we are going? The film does not answer all these for us. Instead, it inspires us to ask the questions and find the answers ourselves.”