By Honey Ryder, Second Year, English
Dazed and Confused (1993) is a cult coming-of-age comedy film, which takes place on the last day of school. We follow an ensemble cast of school kids navigating their relationships and emotions in the shadow of the next phase of their lives.
This slice-of-life summer film is enjoyable on a surface-level viewing. Thirty years on, it is easy to idealise the film’s style. The 70's fashion strikingly resembles fashion that has cyclically resurged in recent years with bell-bottom jeans, dungarees and oversized shirts. The film also has a spectacular pop-rock soundtrack, which reflects the hedonistic characters and their pursuit to snag Aerosmith tickets.
Richard Linklater punctuates Dazed and Confused with slow-motion character shots, ultra close-ups of snooker playing and joint rolling, and extended car-driving sequences to create an intoxicating viewing experience. Watching it on the big screen for the first time, I found myself enthralled with the aesthetics of the film and realised, once again, why it has such a cult following.
However, we cannot ignore the off-kilter undercurrent of this fun-loving summer film. It captures the nervous, pent-up energy of these teens teetering on the cusp of adulthood. The film’s action reflects how your teenage years are a time when everything and nothing happens. The stakes are as low as the characters are high. They resort to drinking and smoking to escape the monotony of day-to-day life. When Mike Newhouse (Adam Goldberg) says, ‘What everybody in this car needs is some good old, worthwhile visceral experience,’ it perfectly captures the stagnation of small-town adolescence. This underlying energy continues to make the film relatable 30 years on.
‘Dazed and Confused’ is undeniably male-centric. Audiences are introduced to a masculine hierarchy of football players, weedheads, and nerds. We observe how the boys react to peer pressure and attempt to climb the ranks through the girls they woo, the substances they consume and the violence they inflict. Though they embody stale stereotypes, the actors understand how this vision of masculinity generationally corrupts boys.
In interviews, Ben Affleck and Cole Hauser alluded to their characters having abusive relationships with their fathers. The film seems to condemn this cycle of violence through the comeuppance that Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck) receives. However, other damning behaviour, such as Pink’s infidelity, escapes unscathed, and we watch more righteous characters like Mike succumb to aggressive means. The film refrains from moral absolutes. It does not teach viewers a lesson or try to deter them from using illegal substances. Instead, Dazed and Confused successfully depicts male insecurity and the messiness of the teenage experience.
We get glimpses of the hierarchy and fraught dynamics among the girls during the freshman initiation and when Darla (Parker Posey) confronts Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) at the moonlight party. However, we have limited insight into the motivations and personalities of the girls. They are reduced to objects of affection and social currency for the boys, which is hard to digest as a contemporary viewer.
Some performances betray the actors’ inexperience, which can be distracting. Yet, it is somehow still authentic to their roles as kids figuring out the part they play in the world. These performances are balanced with comedic standouts like sleazy young Matthew McConaughey and drowsy weed dealer Ron Slater (Rory Cochrane).
Though the audience at Watershed cinema may not have laughed at all the same parts as a 90s audience, there is no doubt that the humour and heart of the film continue to resonate with film fans and will do so for decades to come.
Featured Image: IMDb
Which cult classics would you like to see brought back to the big screen?