The protagonist of Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” is a young fellow (Wally Wiggins) who’s living a dream–a succession of gauzy, fragmentary episodes in which he listens impassively as a wide assortment of voluble characters philosophize about human existence or the lack thereof, or provide examples of pure oddity. (The apparently aimless structure has a lot in common with that employed in Linklater’s first feature, the amiably shambling 1991 “Slacker,” which featured characters discoursing as they randomly bumped into one another.) Eventually our unnamed hero tires of being unable to escape from this peculiar state; he complains over and over again that he feels trapped in an endless cycle and longs for release, though none seems forthcoming. (He may, it’s suggested, be dead, and what he’s experiencing either his long last fragmentary thoughts or an endless afterlife.) By the end of the movie, unfortunately, we can sympathize with him all too well; for despite its visual imagination, Linklater’s picture is, whatever the title suggests, a pretentious snoozer.

Much has been made of the technical side of “Waking Life.” It’s an animated film, but the effect is very different from what one’s accustomed to, since it’s been made by rotoscoping–coloring over (via computers, of course) filmed live footage. Of course, human imagination decides how any individual sequence will be finished, and what additions might be made to the composition. Some of the choices are clever: when a man is talking about the body as a machine, for instance, his face turns into a gear, and when another character speaks of the human form as being primarily water, we see its aquatic component emerge before our eyes. People morphing into clouds or floating into the air make for beautiful moments, too. And the overall look that’s achieved, with all the various elements of a scene bobbing about at different rates, as if each were atop a distinct wave in an unseen sea, has the intended effect of disorienting us further; the result, while unsettling (some may find a dose of motion-sickness medicine useful in controlling their queasiness), often lends an eerie beauty to the images.

But the circular, repetitive premise and the verbal stream-of-consciousness in Linklater’s script quickly grow tedious. That wouldn’t be the case if the snatches of monologues and conversations that he’s devised had any real profundity to them, but most consist of the sort of arid, half-baked pseudo-intellectual blather that one’s apt to hear among sophomores in a university dorm during a late-night bull session. Far too many of the segments include lines like “You know, Timothy Leary once said”–a name-dropping crutch which suggests that Linklater is intent on demonstrating how many authors he’s familiar with (but, paradoxically, how little he’s able to discriminate among what he’s read). Some of “Waking Life” consists of rants of one sort or another, some of snippets of scientific observation on the nature of life and thought, some of speculations on the essence of the dream-state and death. If there’s an overarching point of view to all the verbiage, it’s basically an existentialist one which implies the importance of seizing opportunities and deciding to act in the moment. But surely existentialism, as a philosophical system, is a late twentieth-century phenomenon which now seems more than a little dated and naive. And even if it weren’t, it’s not presented here in a sufficiently coherent fashion to be very meaningful. Nor is there much humor to the script; almost everything is presented with a dogged seriousness that, given the often puerile content, comes across as absurd.

“Words are inert–they’re dead, you know?” a character observes early on in Linklater’s film. One may be tempted to observe, even while admiring the images the director offers us, that at least insofar as the ones that make up “Waking Life” are concerned, the statement seems pretty accurate. While there’s a good deal in the picture to excite the eye, there’s not much to stimulate the ear or, more importantly, to engage the mind.