Remember Richard Linklater? He’s the man who directed some of my favourite movies, including Waking Life and Before Sunrise. Dazed and Confused is one of his first projects, and although it did not do particularly well when it was first released, it has come to be accepted as a cult classic, with a 98% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The tagline says “see it with a Bud”: I had to make do with cheap whiskey.
Dazed and Confused is set on the last day(and night) of class in a Texas high school in the mid 70s, and (apparently accurately, at least according to the comments on imdb) represents the rebellious culture of pot and booze and sex in an AIDS free era. It had a large ensemble cast which consisted of “a number of future stars including Ben Affleck, Anthony Rapp, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey, and Matthew McConaughey“.An ensemble cast, by the way, just means that there’s no single hero.
It’s hard to think of a concise description of the plot in this movie, because there’s no “quest”: the movie simply chronicles what happens to a bunch of seniors and soon-to-be freshmen as they rag, get ragged( the boys just by getting beaten up, the girls by being covered in slime, made to propose to senior guys and being taken through a car wash), drink, fight and have sex. The last is implied, but never shown: for a “rebellious” movie there’s very little violence or sex in the film. The only major conflict in the film is between “Pink” Floyd, the quarterback of the football team, and the coaches who want him and everyone else on the team to sign a pledge promising not to take drugs or do anything else that could “jeopardize the goal of a championship season in ’76”. Pink considers the pledge an attack on their freedom and privacy, and the movie ends with him throwing it at his coach.
I’m not doing a very good job at explaining this film, because it’s one of those movies that make so much more sense in the visual medium itself than they do when you strip them of all context and try to get at the bare skeleton. To continue an admittedly not-so-great analogy, it’s one of those movies that are so good because they can stand up without bones. As I mentioned, there is no quest: but that’s because its not the quest that matters here, its the setting, its how the diverse characters (the dumb jock, the nice jock, the angry geek, the nice geek, the angry, muscular, “cool” pot-smoker, the nice pothead, the loser who hangs out with high school kids years after he graduated, the cool cheerleader, the guitar playing emo chick…) are all fleshed out realistically yet concisely, its how it captures the spirit of an age, that matters. I’d say it easily deserves its reputation.