Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused ★★★★★

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Great Movies
Criterion Collection - #336
Ladies and Gentlemen: The Essentials -#19

Review In A Nutshell:

Richard Linklater’s third film, Dazed and Confused, stands as one of the perfect films that captures the essence of adolescence; showcasing the universal drives like rebellion, destruction, ego, relaxation, freedom, socialisation, and impulsiveness. Despite our desperations of achieving individuality, the emotions we go through during this point in our lives are shared, therefore during flashbacks of nostalgia; recalled experiences are shown to be similar and repetitive. These experiences are shared not just within our own generation, but also with those behind and in front of us, there is a sense of understanding that can be given to one another; anyone can find empathy to the journey that these characters have endured in this film, one that attempts to not judge or manipulate, instead it becomes a moment captured in a bottle for everyone else to see.

My departure from High School is not that long ago, four years to be exact; moments and emotions are still intact but they weren’t as clear as it was two-three years ago, looking back now, it seems the things that stick are the moments that evoke extreme emotional reactions; the heartache, the glory, the stress, and the regrets. Banality becomes lost, eventually saturating the memories and shaping them to be the stereotypical experiences that we have seen countless times depicted through media and literature, the recycling nature in these depictions has made audiences more demanding and cynical, unable to find the heart and soul due to emotional and intellectual numbness. Coming-of-age films have been the bread and butter for family and young-adult films, a universal concept that each person has undertaken, or at least is going to, that allows an immediate connection with the audience, but due to their abundancy, many have become forgotten as the years pass by, and only a notable few have stood the test of time due to their avant-garde approach.

It is films like The 400 Blows, Carrie, The Last Picture Show, and The Breakfast Club that stands above the rest without completely deviating from the empathetic emotions of growing up. It was during the 1980s that the genre became a financial staple, releasing copycats every year, with only some coming through as passable or decent. This was eventually dialled down in the rise of the 90s, finding commerciality only through family-oriented films that pushes its sentimentality beyond its tolerable limit, but the audiences have changed and expectations are far greater and desired to be approached differently. Dazed and Confused may not been a major financial success and it lacks the sensationalism that films within the genre has used with such generosity, diffusing the quality of reality that makes it completely empathetic, but the film was able to stand itself out by providing its audience with a glimpse of raw adolescence, finding sensationalism only through its recreation of a fading period. It is because of this wonderful balance that this film has become an important document for its viewers, a rare peek into the pure and passionate nostalgia of adolescence.

The characters in Dazed and Confused are no doubt affiliated with group structures and clique clichés, but they aren’t confined by them, we can see characters roam around from person to person, seeing each one as their own, providing support and understanding that many films attempt to stray away from in order to create drama for its protagonists. It was wonderful to see this film dive deeply into the culture and mindsets of adolescence, the idea of having to demonstrate a sense of power over those who can easily fall upon it, and driven by a cultural acceptance and necessity, which they believe justifies their actions; it is something that all adolescents should go through, especially those who are keen to reaching the top of the ladder. These are manifested into bum paddling rampages of the recently turned seniors or the humiliating and degrading endurance of the recently turned freshmen girls. It becomes a cycle that would transition and adapt to succeeding generations; do I think it is unnecessary and cruel? Yes, but it does make school life far more eventful and it is appreciated by those who have developed a resiliency to such abuses. This is a period in our lives where it will always be difficult, whether it may be at a social or intellectual angle, a struggle is imminent. It all just depends on how you cope with it.

Linklater has strayed away from melodrama and opted to provide threats to its characters through culture, rituality, acceptance, and emotional survival. Some of these are threats that, at the time of our own adolescence, we fail to notice; our emotions then were considered complex and empathetically difficult, especially when attempting to explain to your parents or peers, finding self-awareness only through growth and reminiscence. There is no traditional three-act structure on its execution, it is simple a slice of life story that emphasises on emotion over story; but Linklater hasn’t deprived the audience any sort of character development, many of its wandering individuals have learned something of themselves that night, giving the audiences a glimpse of what might become of them once the summer is over and they are back to school; it ends before it provides anything concrete, and through that the film achieves on being a period and cultural piece.

Everyone must grow up eventually, but there will always be those who still cling dearly of their High School glory; these are the people who are frightened of life’s unsecure and unpredictable nature, delaying maturity and responsibility as far as they can. Dazed and Confused has understood this unfortunate outcome of some individuals in life, and it has manifested in this film in the form of David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey). Wooderson still finds solace in the local gaming and recreational area, where most of the 70s youth spent their time socialising and find relaxation. He has won the respect of the High School community, seeing him as a role model for his mellow attitude towards life, we all envy his lack of struggle but we pity him for his lack of responsibility and insight. The film’s ending, I feel, comes off ambiguously as Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd (Jason London) sitting in the passenger seat with Wooderson behind the wheel, heading to Houston for Aerosmith tickets; this happening after a confrontation with his coach in regards to singing a contract. Randall’s rejection could be seen as a person who cannot shake away the freedom and lack of responsibility of youth, wanting things to go back the way they were, where the pressure wasn’t as suffocating; but it could also be seen as a different angle on freedom, one where he is free to live the life he chooses, shying away from the expectations of others, hence finding individuality. Though I leaned towards the former than the latter, I cannot say that either perspective isn’t sympathetic of the character, as many of us would want to preserve this capsule of time and though it may suggest a potential outcome of his future, it isn’t concrete.

In our adolescent years, there was this obsession that I and many other teenagers had with wanting to delay their eventual necessity of coming home. The idea of extending the party is a way of demonstrating rebellion and desperation of self-satisfaction. A moment in our lives where we cannot seem to value the essence of time, believing that moments are infinite and are readily available for us to create and mould. Linklater has his characters do things like listing all of the Gilligan’s Island episodes, driving around town in the night, stopping by at the local burger diner, and eventually finding a place to rally up and party; a sense of meticulous planning like a conscious and responsible adult is nowhere to be found, and that is the film being accurate of its portrayal rather than a lesson for the current generation of young adults. It recalls back to our own memories and either finds regret or joy in our nostalgia, and most films are unable to achieve that for their audiences, as it becomes too wrapped around its story that it forgets to capture and reflect the beautiful and senseless banalities of youth.

Dazed and Confused is a remarkable film that highlights the purity of youth, supported by its spot-on costumes and musical jukebox that immerses the audience of the explored era. It features a perfect set of actors and actresses inhabiting the identifiable roles, but allowing a balanced approach in their impersonations and avoiding the pitfalls of their clichés. The film is endlessly quotable and each passing moment brings about a layer of nostalgia that rarely does the film ever underwhelm. Come into this film with your brain out the door and simply enjoy it for what it is, a beautiful portrait of our treasured past.

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