“All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.”
I’ve been a fan of Richard Linklater films for years now. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight and Boyhood all rank in my top 20 films of all time.
Dazed and Confused was a Richard Linklater film I’ve had on my watch-list for a while. It’s one of his most well-known films, which helped launch the careers of current A-list actors like Ben Affleck and Matthew McConaughey, and with the 2016 release of its spiritual sequel, Everybody Wants Some!, I figured it was time to give it a watch.
Like a lot of Linklater’s other films, the movie delves into the minds of characters rather than focusing on any sort of plot progression.
The conversations between the characters don’t drive the story anywhere, or serve any purpose other than showing a snapshot into their lives, which feel completely real by the time the film ends.
There are hints at emotional turmoil in a few of the characters, but there is no grand crescendo at the end, no gun fight, no shocking death, and the characters don’t end the movie severely different from when they started the movie.
Much like the Before Trilogy, Dazed takes place within one 24-hour period (Actually, it is closer to 12 hours) on the last day of high school in Austin, Texas.
Half the characters are soon-to-be high school seniors, who begin seeking out the soon-to-be high school freshmen, to offer up initiation. For girls, the initiation consists of demeaning activities such as making the freshmen wear dummies and driving them through car washes.
For guys, the seniors chase the boys and beat them with cricket bats.
What’s interesting about the movie is that every character in the movie wishes they were out of their high school, out of their town, out of their overall situation, but everyone watching the movie wishes they were part of it.
This isn’t some grand revelation I had whilst watching it; I think Linklater made it quite obvious that this was the whole point of the movie.
What makes this movie art is not what happens on screen, but the relationship it draws between the characters on screen and us, the viewers.
We all believe that the romanticised view of the world shown in movies and old photographs are accurate representations, and that the world really was better in the 90s, 80s, 70s etc.
The movie makes us wish we lived in the 70s, and then having us realise how silly we are for wishing that, by having the characters consistently emphasize how much the 70s suck.
Another one of my favourite movies, Midnight in Paris, articulates this idea. If you wished you grew up in 1920s Paris so that you could socialise with Hemingway, Picasso and Fitzgerald, you’d find that those same men wished they grew up in the 1800s, and that those men wished they grew up in the Renaissance alongside Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
Similarly, Da Vinci probably wished he grew up in the early Middle Ages or something.
This is “golden age thinking”. The idea that by some bad stroke of luck, we were born in a era that is far less exciting than those that preceded it. The truth is, simply changing the era you live in wouldn’t affect your overall happiness in any way.
Romanticising the past and futile wishing that you had been born into another era is lazy, easy, because it removes the responsibility for your happiness from yourself. In actual fact, you are the only one responsible for taking care of you.
Your unhappiness or dissatisfaction with your circumstances are your own fault, because you should be brave enough to get up and work towards the change you want to see in your life, rather than taking the easy route and blaming situations beyond your control.
Every day should be a movement towards your ideal situation, whatever you see when you close your eyes and daydream, and your life becomes stagnant as soon as you stop seeking.
As one of the characters says in the movie, “You’ve just got to keep livin’ man. L-I-V-I-N.”