Classic Film Review
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jason London, Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey
by Mike Peters
A group of teenagers on the last day of school in 1976 are observed.
This film explores the lives of numerous teenagers during a time in which I was never present. The one thing that is in my favor, however, is that most films that take place in the past are usually a critique about something in modern day society. For instance, this film takes place in 1976 but was made in 1993. For some, this film is not merely about a group of adolescent’s last day of school in 1976 but rather an attempt to discern and understand the actions of teenagers in 1993. This is a time period in which I was most definitely present.
In the early nineties’, a genre of music, known as Grunge music, was on the rise. This type of music attempted to express the angst and sorrow felt by many people (most notably, teenagers) through harsh, unrelenting lyrical and instrumental melodies. Bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were conveying inner emotions that struck deep into the hearts of people who were no longer satisfied with the popular music that attempted to make it all seem alright. However, Grunge music was not a truly new entity. In actuality, the genre was deeply rooted in the rock music that existed during the 1970s (many popular rock hits from this decade are present in Dazed and Confused which add tremendous depth and meaning to the overall film).
During the 70’s, teenagers were often referred to as “the lost generation”. The same has been said about the youth of the 90s. What Dazed and Confused strives for is to offer comparisons and contrasts between the “slacker” culture of the 70s and the 90s. That is why this film is remarkable. Yes, there is a very limited plot but the film is not concerned with that. It is more about attempting to understand the actions and decisions of adolescents in that crucial transitional period between youth and adult. Some of the decisions that we make are what shape us as human beings in our futures. This is a tough and difficult time for many and probably the most important as well.
There are no true stars in this film. It is not about one but rather a group of individuals attempting to arrive at some understanding about themselves. That is why there are no characters more significant or important than any other. However, the character of Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) really made me ponder the idea of individuality. During the course of the film, he is given an ultimatum by his football coach. He must sign a waiver to stop drinking and partaking in drugs and focus on the football season for the upcoming year. Every one on the team has signed it but he feels it is a violation of who he is. During this time, no teenager wants to be told what to do. If he signs it, then he gives into the “man” and loses a sense of his individuality. If he doesn’t, then he may lose his chance of having a great career as a football player. This choice will decide whether he wants to be grouped as a follower within the masses or rather as an outsider, determined to remain true to his individualistic mentality. This is where the film truly makes its’ mark. It is not about plot but about rich characterizations. There are many characters in the film but yet most are given significant screen time to despair over their inevitable transition into adulthood.
Dazed and Confused attempts to observe a group of seniors focused more on the hazing and ritualistic taunting of newly arriving freshman than on their journey towards the next step in life. The performances are not great but yet they are true which makes them memorable (Of note, Wiley Wiggins does provide an extremely annoying performance as Mitch Kramer-How often does he touch his hair and nose when he is on-screen anyways?).
This film truly summons up a sense of nostalgia that makes one yearn for the past where nothing mattered and a Friday night meant friends, relationships and partying. It was a time of no concern or worries. Yes, there was a fear for the future but it was usually brushed aside since we had our entire lives ahead of us. This is all we knew and this is all we wanted to know. We didn’t want responsibility. We wanted freedom. This film magnificently captures that realism which all existed within us at one time or another. Yet, it is inevitable that we must grow up and become the adults we desperately wanted to be treated as but never truly wanted to be.
Some of us never want to grow up and that is truly the case of the character Danny Wooderson, played by Matthew McConaughey. His character has already graduated but yet he refuses to move on because high school was a time in which he experienced the greatest joys of his life. Whereas his peers have moved on, he remains firmly rooted in the life that has meant so much to him. He is an adult acting as a child. In retrospect, he is the saddest character of the film.
This film did very poorly during its’ initial theatrical release but has found an audience on DVD. Some people may have believed that this film was about nothing and they would be right. This film is about the randomness of life. Most teen movies that are made are typically shallow and false portraits of teenagers. They are rarely true to their characters. They are superficial representations of a group that most do not understand. Richard Linklater does understand teenagers. He paints a wonderful portrait and truly allows the youth of this film to have a voice. That is why this film is great. The characters are true which makes them reliable. We attach ourselves to their situations because we can relate to them. We see a part of ourselves within at least one of these characters which is why this film has obtained such a cult following.
Yes, I was not born in the 70s but I grew up in the 90s and witnessed a very similar trend. These were not the exploits of a lost generation but rather the actions of a culture coming to grips with who they were. They were attempting to understand themselves for the first time and, to be honest, have fun before responsibility reared its’ ugly head. We all grow up but we can never forget what made us the person we are today.