Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media



Tango for a Dream: Narrative Liminality and Musical Sensuality in Richard Linklater’s Waking Life

Danijela Kulezic-Wilson


Abstract: Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) combines unapologetically cerebral content with a sensuous audiovisual style; fragmentariness in the narrative with an all-encompassing breadth of ideas. Another aspect of Waking Life’s internal contradictions is the juxtaposition of the film’s liminal narrative space with the most “earthly” of music genres, the tango. I will explore the contradictions of Linklater’s film by viewing it in the context of the filmmaker’s metaphysical concerns, showing how all his formal choices, including the rotoscoped visual style, the “narrative of digressions” (Linklater qtd. in Singer) and the choice and placement of music, resonate with the film’s thematic undercurrents and its inquiry into the mysteries of existence, consciousness and time. I will argue that the tension between the film’s narrative liminality and tango’s erotic corporeality addresses the dualistic nature of human experience and that the film’s references to Jean-Luc Godard’s Prénom Carmen (1983) in the scoring not only evoke the French director’s distrust of the film medium itself but also connect to Waking Life’s wider concerns with the nature of reality and our perception of it.


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