Dazed and Confused (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★
It is Lee High School’s last day before summer of ’76 officially begins and students from various cliques are eager to celebrate. Summer means no getting up early for class, no teachers, just friends, late nights, and freedom. Word is going around that Pickford (Shawn Andrews) is going to throw a party since his parents are away for the weekend. For many, it is the place to be to commemorate the arrival of summer.
We are all familiar with that strange feeling in our gut and the shroud-like calm that seems to touch every little thing when we are about to let go and be reckless for a change, perfectly captured by writer-director Richard Linklater in “Dazed and Confused.” It is a very accessible picture because it dares to capture and remain true to that universal feeling.
Though it certainly helps, the film is smart not to rely on the hair styles, the clothes, and the cars to tell its story. It focuses on being young, living in the moment, and acknowledging that the future can be a scary and exciting thing. Filled with very different and memorable characters, the easiest to root for is Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), the football team’s star quarterback who is able to fluidly hang out with one clique to another.
Because of this character, I noticed that the screenplay is honest in portraying high school students. Contrary to popular media’s portrayal of jocks being one-dimensional steroid-hungry bulldogs who scare people into hiding in their lockers, in my experience, athletes like Pink do not just remain in their circle. Some of them are able to have friends outside of their spheres even if they do not necessarily share the same interests. Likable athletes tend to be popular not simply because they can throw the ball really far. They have a charming aspect to them that encourages us to let our guard down even for just a little bit.
Pink is going to be a senior in the fall, but he is not sure if continuing to play football is still right for him. His feelings and thoughts are handled without sentimentality that might potentially make the picture feel drab. After all, when reduced to the lowest common denominator, the film is about a night of freedom.
And yet the screenplay surprises the viewers by striving to become more than just a night of drinking and partying. As the night unfolds, it is able to focus on its characters: young people with real thoughts and concerns with adulthood—or their ideas of adulthood—looming near. For example, Pink represents the present while Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) and Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) represent the future and past, respectively. Pink is happy to be where he is but he consistently crosses paths with his coach who wants him to sign a piece of paper which states that he will not do drugs and get in trouble with the law during the summer. Although signing may sound practical because he has a responsibility toward his team, the community, and his future, we are made to understand that for him a signature means signing away a part of himself and the gnawing desires of living in the now.
I admired that although the film showed stereotypically “bad” things like drinking beer, smoking weed, and committing a bit of vandalism, the script maintains a surprising level of insight. There is a conversation in the car between Mike (Adam Goldberg), Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), and Tony (Anthony Rapp), so-called geeks, about how they feel the youth is being programmed into preparing for the future but it is, in the end, all for nothing. They argue that once that future is reached, we do not or may not necessarily find ourselves being truly happy and living. We tend to worry about the next future and how to achieve it.
“Dazed and Confused,” accompanied by an excellent soundtrack, has a surprising level of clarity. Notice certain scenes when one person comes along to greet a group of friends already immersed in a conversation and the dynamic completely changes. Small details like that goes a long way. I wish more movies were like this.