Movie Review : Dazed and Confused (1993)
When I was a kid, the last day of school was always June 23rd. It kicked off the best week of the year to me: no school anymore and summer countdown hadn’t technically started yet. Our freedom was absolute and life-affirming. I’m not a nostalgic person in general, but I’m nostalgic of that feeling like a motherfucker. I believe many people are. That’s probably why Richard Linklater’s film Dazed and Confused is so fondly remembered and revisited. It’s a movie about that intoxicating feeling of freedom. One that disappears with the responsibilities of adulthood.
It’s hard to explain what Dazed and Confused is about outside of saying: it’s about the last day of school in Austin, Texas. The movie follows a handful of kids preparing for their summer kickoff: Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) who’s being asked to sign a pledge by his football coach, promising that he wouldn’t drink or do drugs over the summer; Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), a budding jock with a soft side being chased for his high school hazing; dropout Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey); enthusiastic career jock O’Bannion (Ben Affleck) and several others.
Dazed and Confused is a simple movie. What makes it quirky and original is that it doesn’t really have a story. It has a time instead. And the “story” is how the characters individually choose to fill that time, which has sacred meaning for high school kids. I believe that’s why it feels so good to watch. For example, Mitch’s brutal hazing by O’Bannion doesn’t really define its character because it’s just one thing that happens throughout the night. In a more traditional movie, he would’ve went home and cowered or plotted revenge. O’Bannion would’ve been vilified. But Mitch goes with the flow and things take care of themselves.
But the most interesting subplot of Dazed and Confused is definitely “Pink” Floyd’s battle for self-determination. Cast in the stereotypical role of the football team’s quarterback, Pink refuses to let it define him. Because it was dictated to him by adults, who represent the establishment. Society trying to cast him into something he has not chosen. It’s interesting because Pink is battling adults that really don’t have control over him and who are trying to convince him into behaving according to their own moral code, for their own gain (winning the football season).
This is the spirit and the legacy of the seventies right there. Choosing your own way. Not letting the way things are dictate the way things are going to be for you. It’s oddly uplifting.
Last, but not least: Dazed and Confused both acknowledges and invalidates high school movie stereotypes, which is perhaps the most realistic portrayal of them I’ve ever seen. Because these stereotypes exist in real life. People are drawn to other people with similar interests: sports, weed, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. But it doesn’t prevent kids from all hanging out together. In smaller cities especially, there’s a level of acceptance of different people because you’ve grown up with them. They are inherently more than their centers of interest. Richard Linklater understands that and it’s what makes Dazed and Confused effortlessly nuanced.
There you have it. If Dazed and Confused is considered a high school classic, it’s because it doesn’t play by high school movie rules. Richard Linklater swiftly shifts around stereotypes in order to express what being young is really about: having a shitload of time to figure out who you are and making conscious or unconscious choice that’ll eventually reveal your character to you. It doesn’t matter if you believe it aged well or not. If you think it shows stuff that wouldn’t fly in 2019. Because Dazed and Confused is based on a universal truth about being young. That will never change.