“Waking Life,” the Movie That Got Me Hooked On Philip K. Dick

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I was like, you know, he’s not really a psychic, you know I’m thinking to myself. And then suddenly I start floating, like levitating, up to the ceiling. And as I almost go through the roof, I’m like, “Okay, Mr. Psychic. I believe you. You’re a psychic. Put me down please.”
–Richard Linklater, “Waking Life”

The other day I was trying to trace where my Philip K. Dick “kick” started, and I remembered this scene from the 2001 film Waking Life. Of course, I had previously knew him as being the famous author of various science-fiction books, including that upon which the movie Blade Runner was based. But it’s funny how you can go through a whole life—or, for me, 4 years of college studying English Lit—and not really “connect” with an author.

That all changed after I saw this scene in Waking Life.

The set-up is that Wiley Wiggins, the young protagonist—who has been wandering in what seems like a dream landscape for most of the movie—runs into the film’s real-life director, Richard Linklater, at a pinball machine. Linklater tells Wiggins a story of a dream he had, but “preambles” it with an anecdote about Philip K. Dick.

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Dick apparently wrote a novel, Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, that later “came true” in his personal life. When Dick reported the puzzling phenomena to his priest, the latter responded that the plot of the book was the same as The Book Of Acts from the New Testament.

Based on these two coincidences—plus, I would find out later, a whole series of spiritual experiences—Dick concluded that we are all living in 50 A.D. during Roman times. Furthermore, the reason for the synchronicity between his book, real life, and the Bible was because Dick himself somehow “pierced” through time—which he felt was an illusion, all of us actually stuck at 50 A.D.

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The preamble over, Linklater narrates a dream he had immediately after reading about all this, in which he first encounters a psychic who makes him float up into the air. Then a woman from Victorian times who was the patron of Yeats, Lady Gregory, speaks to Linklater specifically about Dick’s time theory. She says Dick was only partially right—time is an illusion, only the “real” time isn’t 50 A.D. The real time is NOW—this very moment, which is eternity.

Linklater then runs into his dead dog, who is cuddly at first but then has rotting things coming out of its stomach. Lady Gregory then starts to cough out not only vomit—but, as the director specifies—”dead person vomit.” Thus he concludes that what he initially thought of as a dream was more like a “visitation,” and that he must have been in “the land of the dead.”

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Lady Augusta Gregory

This is all no comfort to the Wiggins character, who has been lost in a dream the entire movie and is beginning to think he himself is also really dead.

Linklater’s final advice to Wiggins is, simply, “just wake up.” One could presume that part of this “waking up” process is realizing that time is an illusion and that he must live in the “eternal now.”

Just to clarify, that whole thing about Philip K. Dick is true, in that he really did have those coincidences happen to him and he did formulate a rather elaborate alternate theory of time. Linklater would later direct a film based on Dick’s novel A Scanner Darkly, in a similar animation style to Waking Life.

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Doing research on this one bizarre aspect of Dick’s life led, for me, to several rabbit-holes of further inquiries. But none of it would have started without watching Waking Life (though seeing a copy of VALIS on the bookshelf during a scene in the show LOST also gave me a bit of a push).

You can see the entire “Waking Life” scene here:

Waking Life – Philip K. Dick – Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said from Bob Smith on Vimeo.