Movies are a medium which relies on youth. Precisely because of this, countless youth-centered entertainments fill up screens across America each year. But these aren’t really about youth so much as they are about what some Hollywood executive’s shaky vision of youth is. With very few recent movies treating their subject with the care it deserves, we are forced to look back.
Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” is some of the most fun you’ll have watching a movie. From start to finish, the characters in the film, penned by the gifted writer/director, act like friends you’ve never had before. There’s none of the trepidation of being the new guy—they welcome you, an outsider, into their weird little lives; their slavish self-perpetuated purgatories, their dreams, their hopes, their focus on becoming what they already are.
Though “Dazed” works in the “high school” film genre, it should, perhaps more appropriately, be thought of as a great “youth” film. Better yet, it should be thought of as art, something which movies rarely are. The film has an obscure structure. If you pay attention, you’ll see the film is segmented into three basic parts: day, night and the moon tower sequence. The film works as something with various peaks and valleys rather than something which reaches a grand climax at the end.
The film has some terrific moments. From a group of senior girls hazing soon-to-be freshmen to the beat of “Why Can’t We Be Friends” to a young Ben Affleck being humiliated by a set of young misfits, the film is made up of some of the most quotable dialogue, bouncy tone and memorable characters in recent film history.
Practically everyone in the film had a career after it was released. And though most everyone in the film is great, Parker Posey’s performance is a standout. Linklater knows how to get good performances out of actors. He even keeps their nervous tics and gestures (be sure to take a drink every time Wiley Wiggins touches his nose), knowing full well that this is now part of the character. It is the naturalness he chooses to celebrate rather than deprecate that gives his characters such life.
The lingo of the characters is as sporadic as their personalities. Conversations range from a rudimentary feminist reading of “Gilligan’s Island” to loquacious girls discussing rumors. Linklater is interested in the strange and out of the ordinary. By extension, so are his characters.
Many have commented on the anthropological nature of the film, but it goes beyond that. Linklater is attempting to capture and celebrate a certain set of spirits. The characters in the film embody the playful curiosity usually reserved for small children and philosophers; not yet stifled by ways of thinking, they remain open to possibilities.
Yet, many of the characters in the film seem fundamentally unhappy. “If I have to refer to these as the best years of my life, then I need to kill myself,” says Pink (Jason London), the film’s central character. Why should he feel this way? After all, we’ve had such a blast watching the events of the day unfold.
But we know what Linklater is up to. Illuminating the constant ‘Wow’ that breathes in every moment and his character’s inability to see it. We know all too well what Linklater is up to.
One of the frequently unsung heroes of the Generation X filmmakers as well as one of the most intelligent, Linklater eschewed being fully understood. His career and projects are eclectic and make his voice in cinema one of the most original around. “Dazed and Confused” might just be his finest moment. It is a yes-saying film filled with Dionysian energy that’ll make you want to get drunk, get high, screw around, dance and ultimately participate in the ludicrous activity of life. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it’s a “high school movie” means it isn’t one of the better films produced in the last 20 years.