The Sneaky Brilliance of Dazed and Confused

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 26 2011 11:56 AM

Dazed and Confused and the Cinema of Aimlessness

dazed3
A still from 'Dazed and Confused'.

I have a simple test to see if a scene from a movie will last: Has someone snipped it out and posted it on YouTube? Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused arrives on Criterion Blu-ray this week, and, yes, my favorite moment has 367,177 views and counting:

Mitch, Pink, and Wooderson enter the Emporium while Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" is playing. Matthew McConaughey's cocky stroll captures both the power and fleetingness of high school glory. His life will never be better, and that's kind of sad. Linklater's second major film is packed with these interstitial moments of teenage life that other movies leave out or, most often, never even approach. Here's another great one: "She called you a bitch and you a slut."

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Released in September of 1993, Dazed and Confused was awkwardly marketed as a stoner film and failed at the box office. This image has stuck with it, thanks to Linklater and actor Rory Cochrane's combined gift for stoner monologues: "George Washington was in a cult, and the cult was into aliens, man." As it ages, the movie has also become a dorm-room staple, an updated Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But, for me at least, Dazed and Confused is more than a sentimentally-charged coming-of-age movie.

First, there is the anthropological genius of Linklater (and the set and costume designers who worked with him). Set in Austin on the last day of school in 1976, the movie looks like a documentary, but Linklater is also sensitive to the more timeless contours of the teenage years: Note how all the girls tower over the boys at the middle-school dance. Second, and more pretentiously, Dazed and Confused is a sneakily experimental film. It was Linklater's follow-up to Slacker, a plotless, aimless, wonderful talkfest: "You know about the suppressed transmission, of course."

Dazed is also an aimless film, wrapped up in a more pleasing package, and that's why it's lasted. Even though it has a Ulysses-esque 24-hour structure, the movie doesn't artificially shape the narratives of its characters. High school doesn't have any auditorium slow-hand-clap moments: It's mostly feeling confused, driving around, taking advantage of opportunities to be stupid or temporarily sublime. It's my first and favorite entry in what Richard Brody would maybe call the Cinema of Aimlessness.

I think Old Joy might also belong in this canon. Got any others?

Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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