Insomnia affects nearly all of us from time to time. With one person, it is a condition so persistent and serious that he warned his wife about it before married he got married. Wide Awake is about Alan Berliner, made by him, and starring him in all his insomniacal glory.
Collages of images and archive film clips are intercut with interviews of the filmmaker, alone or in discussion with various people, including psychologists. It ends up as a very personal perspective, rather than a documentary on sleeplessness. We see glued-together pop-art sequences of his filing boxes, piling up and unpiling, or a baby at different points in its aimless rearranging of press cuttings on a bare floor. Still and moving images are vaguely connected to the theme of time. The neurotic tempo of the film has a soundtrack to match (with many ticking clocks), and a quality that recalls the feeling one might have when repeatedly woken up, say by chitchat or an irritating noise. Berliner, presumably, lives permanently in a state of mind akin to this.
At one stage, the cadence changes. Berliner, who religiously avoids caffeine, takes part in an experiment on himself by drinking a cup of coffee. He becomes a very hyper individual, as if having drunk coffee to excess or ingested amphetamine.
Apart from this transient surge, things maintain a normality of collages; the birth of his son (presumably to symbolise sleepless nights - as well offering a backdrop of the artist's 'life'); his baby's first yawn; and so on. My favourite scene is where he delivers a lecture to some students in the form of a movie, and films them with an infra-red camera to demonstrate that some of them fall asleep (I suspect the humour was unintentional.) Berliner makes some argument about this not being due to their boredom - although I was unconvinced.
In more capable hands, the film would be firmly in the 'art for art's sake' category, and one can think of films like the Cremaster series that hold our fascination with their quirky visual imagery. Unfortunately, Berliner seriously overestimates his ability. His building-block sequences with inanimate objects look barely worthy of an amateur with no more than a passion for what they do. His monologues about his condition are delivered with a Woody Allen-esquire confidence, as if they were either witty or profound or both (and in the hands of someone like Woody Allen perhaps they would have been - at least if they were short); but Berliner is neither witty nor profound. The self-obsession he finds so enthralling is simply irritating, his delivery rarely varies from a monotone drawl, and he lacks any shred of what might be called charisma. "Really, it's becoming ad nauseam," says his wife, and I agree. (I'm sure she was referring to something else, but it seems very apropos.) "My biological clock needs to go to the repair shop," Berliner announces, which would tempt me to many a caustic remark, such as, "Set your watch two hours fast so you miss this film," or, "Put your mobile on silent so it doesn't disturb your nap during the movie," but I feel it would be unfair to accord Wide Awake the honour of even thinking about further.
This very self-absorbed mish-mash of a movie lacks any structured approach or psychological insights into the phenomena it claims to address, and the interviews with his wife and mother suggest that, if you gave them a camera, they would at least be wide awake enough to make a better film than this one. Berliner treats us to several minutes of him declaring, "There'll be plenty of time to sleep after I die." Apparently he wants to get it 'just right' so he says it, "in a devilish kind of way." Watching him is like a waking hell - only less enthralling.
Sleep through this, and you give yourself an extra 80 minutes well spent that you nearly wasted if you bought a ticket in the first place.
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