Whether you’re watching high or sober, Richard Linklater’s iconic 1993 movie “Dazed and Confused” hits all the right notes. This coming-of-age masterpiece features themes of rebellion and lasting friendship all overlaid with — you guessed it — some very potent cannabis imagery. Almost 30 years on, “Dazed and Confused” feels as fresh as ever with a killer soundtrack and marvelously endearing characters.
While critically acclaimed, “Dazed and Confused” was a box office failure, earning $7.9 million worldwide, a number that’s barely above the film’s $6.9 million budget. However, it has gained and maintained a steady cult following, cementing it as quintessential viewing for anyone who has ever tried growing up. Even if you weren’t alive in the 1970s — or the 1990s for that matter — the nostalgia the film evokes for me comes from the characters, not the aesthetics.
The film came out nearly 30 years ago in 1993 and is set 17 years before that in 1976, but the different plights of the students in “Dazed and Confused” remain remarkably relevant. High school football star Pink (Jason London) is pressured by the school to sign a written pledge saying he’ll stay away from drugs and alcohol and focus on school, but Pink’s friends have other ideas. Meanwhile, freshman Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) and friends try to evade a promised hazing by senior bullies, led by super senior Fred (Ben Affleck).
The conflicts faced by Pink and Mitch are based in the universal truths of being a kid: making the tough decisions about who to associate with, how to present yourself and, ultimately, how to live in a strikingly difficult stage of life.
As someone who has (thankfully) escaped my teenage years, it can be easy to forget how detrimental the retrospectively inconsequential problems I had felt; a minor drama turned into weeks of turmoil. But along with downs came ups. Living carefree and rent-free and tax-free is something many of us will never get back, but movies like “Dazed and Confused” provide a smidge of escapism — at least for an hour and 42 minutes.
While London, Wiggins and Affleck are all outstanding in this film, the real MVP is Matthew McConaughey playing the stagnant David Wooderson. This character is present in all of our lives — the guy who hasn’t moved on from high school and might come to visit his high school history teacher in the middle of the day.
McConaughey could’ve easily played Wooderson as jokey and unsympathetic but instead chose to give the character as much sincerity as possible. Of course, McConaughey also delivers the forever emulated line “all right, all right, all right,” which certainly doesn’t hurt.
The film’s soundtrack is the stuff of legend with classic cuts of ’70s rock making this great movie even better. Artists like Kiss, Black Sabbath and the Runaways had songs included, along with War’s iconic track “Low Rider.” Whether you like ’70s rock as a genre or not (who doesn’t?), the soundtrack of “Dazed and Confused” was exquisitely cultivated.
The end of “Dazed and Confused” doesn’t have a sense of finality like “The Breakfast Club,” a similar coming-of-age film, is known for. Instead, doors are left open for Pink, Mitch and the rest of the cast as they continue to navigate through life. This ending seems fitting for these characters and is, for me, generally preferred. Being able to fill in the blanks helps a movie stay with a viewer, and that’s certainly true with “Dazed and Confused.”
Now that recreational cannabis sales are legal in New Mexico, maybe we can all live our lives like the “Dazed and Confused” gang and get high on a little more than life. Regardless of how topical the movie is right now, it’s an absolute must-see. I can’t recommend it enough.
Emma Trevino is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itsemmatr
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