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Two Sides of the Same Coin: Clay Jensen vs. The Dreamer

Twitter: Alisha Boe

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re watching Thirteen Reasons Why, and on comes a scene that makes you text one of your friends an entire detailed thesis about how frustrated you were with one of the characters’ actions. Ladies and gentlemen, this is what you call a “conversation starter”. The Netflix original has just about everyone talking. Even if you haven’t tuned into the show, there’s a very good chance you’ve heard about its controversial premise: A girl commits suicide and leaves tapes behind for the people she blames for making her want to kill herself. In the same respect of being a perfect ice breaker, the animated classic, Waking Life, comes to mind. The film is directed by Dazed and Confused‘s Richard Linklater and follows an unidentified man through an existential crisis. Trapped in a dream, the man, played by Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused), encounters various philosophers that try to guide him through his struggles of finding purpose and make sense of existence. Pretty deep stuff.

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Clay needs answers, just like the dreamer. The man with the answers turns out to be the ever-suave and annoyingly wise Tony, one of Clay’s classmates. As the series progresses, the two begin to form an evident bond based upon trust and vulnerability. He knows more than he is letting on and as a result, he is looked to for advice and support from Clay. The scene in which Clay refers to Tony as an “unhelpful Yoda” is reminiscent of an early scene of Waking Life:

Left to right: Dreamer, Unidentified Passenger, Driver


The driver of a boat car asks the dreamer where he’s going, and by the unwritten laws of existialism, the dreamer has no clue where he’s going. He gets dropped off at the corner of a random street, and from then on, his only goal is to wake up. The driver tells him this location will determine the course of the rest of his life.

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Along the way, the dreamer finds various strangers to explain to him the mysteries of his mind, focusing within the scope of existentialism. Concepts such as free will and collective memory are explored, giving the dreamer and the audience alike insight into how to approach an existential crisis. These strangers offer perspectives from all over to bring clarity to this situation. From professors, to other curious humans like himself, they question the world they live in, but also the way in which unseen forces connect the people living in it. Clay’s predicament does not differ so much.

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With the loss of anyone close to you, the first question you ask the universe is often “Why?” Why did it have to be them? Why did it have to be this way? And those questions are exponentially multiplied when the death is a suicide. Clay is given 7 tapes that hold 13 stories told by a dead girl he once knew, and presumably loved. Each story is supposed to be a lesson learned, wisdom gained from the knowledge and mistakes made by each person. In both works, the quest to find answers often raises more questions than it answers. Clay’s classmates are found to be in a tangled web of lies, and with each person’s truth, an infinite number of secrets are unveiled.

Courtesy of Netflix Images


With its ambiguous premise, Waking Life blurs the lines of what you assume could be true and what is imagined. It appeals to multiple senses, remaining visually captivating and wonderfully cinematic while the dialogue is intellectually engaging. This work is digital art masterpiece that makes you second guess just about everything. In my own experience, it appealed to me because of my interest in political psychology and ethics in general.

I am constantly questioning the truth of my reality. Am I really here? Are you really reading this? Is this some wild version of The Sims? I am also questioning my own moral compass and where I stand on controversial issues. I was confronted by these issues as I watched events unfold in Thirteen Reasons Why. As twisted and graphic as the series is, it’s reality. Albeit, not to the extremes that occur at Liberty High, but the issues presented therein, such as teen suicide and sexual assault, are the ones we like to ignore. You hope and you pray you, or anyone you know, will never get raped or commit suicide, but this world is not so perfect. There is a dark force within humanity. It shows the extreme consequences of failing to take responsibility and being oblivious to someone’s pain.

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Be aware. Know your surroundings. Talk to the people around you, whether you ask them how they’re day is going or ask them how they feel about the idea that every event that occurs in the world is predetermined from the beginning of time. Both works tackle humanity from different sides of its spectrum. Thirteen Reasons Why incites the viewer to ask themselves “What would I have done?” The characters in the show do the same. Could they have been nicer? More honest? More humane and empathetic? Couldn’t we all? On another note, Waking Life questions human essence. It causes you to question our physical state and elements of one’s own consciousness. This entire movie is just one big “Hits blunt” meme, but you take away a new perspective and understanding from the film. You can thank me in advance for any heated discussions that arise at the next party you attend when you bust out either of these conversation starters. Both Waking Life and Thirteen Reasons Why are waiting for you on Netflix.

“Two Sides of the Same Coin” is a series of cinematic comparisons, ranging from identical plots, to works only connected by themes and similar plot devices. The purpose of these posts is to be exposed to the diversity of cinema and storytelling.

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