DAZED AND CONFUSED. We should have fun!

“Dazed and Confused” certainly resonates most with the generation that attended school in the 70s because that’s who the film is about.

Darek Kuźma

19 March 2024

Apparently, we spend the best years of our lives in school – we don’t have to worry so much about money, work, family, and other life demands. Adult life is a challenge that everyone will eventually face, but sometimes it feels like a distant future. In school, the only things we have to worry about are relatively systematic (once every six months) studying and social life (at least once a week). Why worry when we have to return home anyway? School is stereotypically a time of carefree fun, hormonal storms, and learning, both academic and life lessons. These are the last years of life when we can truly speak of real freedom, unrestricted by future problems. The last years when we can actually do something, achieve something that matters. A time of hope, great expectations, and beautiful dreams. This is what the movie focuses on, leaving what comes next to each individual’s interpretation. Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” essentially tells the story of everything important in the life of every young person, albeit under the guise of a story about the last day of school – a convention adopted by the director.

Linklater presents us with a day in the life of an American school, but it’s not just any day; it’s a special day – the last moments within the school walls before summer vacation. The seniors have the opportunity to get back at the juniors for how they were treated when they were younger. So, the girls take out their frustrations on their younger peers, inflicting real psychological torment on them. The boys, on the other hand, opt for simpler yet more spectacular solutions – giving a “licking” to every “freshman” using a wooden paddle, and those who try to avoid it receive several of these “treats.” To cap off this wonderful day, there’s supposed to be a huge party at one of the boys’ houses.

dazed and confused

Unfortunately, his parents accidentally find out about their offspring’s nefarious plans and instead of going away for the weekend, they maliciously stay home. Thus, the “farewell party” moves elsewhere: to bars, onto the city streets, and ultimately into the woods. The plot isn’t very elaborate, but it perfectly focuses on the characters, their experiences, reactions, and motivations.

Born in 1960, Linklater is essentially telling his own memories and those of his buddies – he experienced this, he loved it. Everyone portrayed in the film, and there are quite a few, are flesh-and-blood characters, not stiff puppets from a screenplay. Moreover, there are also characters based on real people. The director was sued by his buddies from school (Bobby Wooderson, Andy Slater, and Richard Floyd), who unanimously declared that their portrayal in the film by Linklater was highly damaging, and their names were used without the prior consent of the owners.

Additionally, the creator placed the action of his film in 1976, the bicentennial of the United States of America – a time of national reflection on history and the chosen direction of development. In this specific year, many wise words were spoken, comprehensive works written, and documentaries filmed, but the young generation, this generation of the future, didn’t really concern themselves with such existential problems.

The film certainly resonates most with the generation that attended school in the 70s because that’s who the film is about; it describes precisely that era, which they lived through and nostalgically reminisce about. Of course, I wasn’t a student in the 70s, heck – even then, birds weren’t chirping about me yet! So what fascinates me about Linklater’s work? Well, it’s incredibly universal and speaks to all generations of young people knocking on the gates of adulthood. Yes, it’s true that the film describes a specific era, how everything looked and happened – but only “externally,” if I may say so. Beneath the surface of this one beloved era chosen by the creator, Linklater focuses on the problems that all young people face. Moreover, he does it so phenomenally that it resonates with different generations.

The late 90s and early 21st century, which I know firsthand, are entirely different, yet they seem remarkably similar in terms of mentality. Sure, we don’t have the same cars and clothes as they did, and a six-pack of beer is outdated – reality changes every year, let alone decades. However, the problems remain the same, despite minor costume and set changes. Interestingly, the director doesn’t really provide any commentary himself, nor does he present it in the mouths of his characters. He simply, with a documentary-like sense, shows what he wants. And it’s good that the creator didn’t venture into those, let’s not beat around the bush, treacherous territories, because it could have turned into another mixed-up morality tale pessimistically portraying the world of youth. Fortunately, Richard Linklater isn’t that foolish. Richard Linklater pays homage to youth!

Weed, chill, sex, parties, music. That’s it, nothing more is needed. Why worry about something that will come anyway? We should have fun! Life couldn’t possibly be better or more spectacular than it is now. Later, we’ll have to start a family, build a home, plant a tree, but now is not the time to reconcile with life, but to fight it! Successes, failures, victories, compromises – they will come with time, not like now, when a successful party is a success and a rejection from a girl is a failure. In a few (or a dozen) years, all that glamour will be gone, no more victories, let alone failures; only rules to adhere to.

First infatuations, last infatuations, first loves. It’s beautiful, it’s wonderful. We should enjoy every moment, seize every opportunity, later it will be too late, later it will be too difficult. The gray reality of life will eventually catch up with us. The world of stiff suits and careerists awaits eagerly to chew up the fresh meat. Words without meaning, thoughts without meaning. Nothing matters more when you’re young – you can do anything, be someone, do something great! You can also be nobody, do nothing, go through life watching as others successfully snatch its joyful moments.

All philosophies, words, and divisions make sense here and now, to know where one stands, or on the contrary – where one does not. It will never have such great significance again. Rebellion, lack of rules, adaptation, too many rules. All adults want something, talk about something incomprehensible, tell us to learn from the mistakes of their youth – but what about ours?! They tell us to cram and absorb quotes from famous personalities, senselessly explaining that it’s because we’re young and confused. They just don’t understand that their wonderful quotes came from young and confused people hundreds of years ago.

The past matters, but only up to the point where you can use it to form your own opinion. The present, however, is the most important state, transient though it may be, but shaping the future. Rebellion seems to be the only solution to save the youth lifestyle. Rules are meant to be broken, to learn from them what not to do. Adaptation equals falling into a black hole, from which there is no return – there’s only watching one’s successors through the prism of the rules one has fallen into. Spontaneity slowly turns into Routine, Youth slowly turns into Experience, and the Taste of Life takes on a bitter aftertaste… Learning, partying, weed, sports – that’s our motto, we pass it on to our successors so they can make good use of it. We pass it on hoping it will help them realize certain things before it’s too late.

Beginnings, endings, initiation, separation – school years end like everything else, and the only thing left is the nostalgic sadness of memories – the first time, the (un)forgettable party, girls, boys, twilight parties, returning at dawn; the taste of a still buzzing life in the head. Daze, ecstasy, low, sadness, doubt – we are the masters of the world, what to do? You can’t please everyone, you can’t even please yourself. Passing the baton to the next generation is painful, the overwhelming sadness is unbearable; not to mention, not to look, not to think… Tradition, rules, pressure, expectations – someone has to show the young how to fight the worn-out rules of other generations. They can’t make the same mistakes we did – they can’t let those wonderful years slip away!

The confrontation of tradition with expectations is a war resulting in unbearable pressure. So many things to do, so many things to settle, so much time to lose; everything blurs at some point, and all that remains is emotional emptiness… The solution, it seems, is easiest to keep pushing forward, without fear, even though we see trained robots all around us. Future, past, present – what will come next? What’s next? Is this really the end of this wonderful journey, or just the beginning of another? Fear kills reason, ignorance grabs us in its claws. Did all this really make any sense? Is life just for the sake of life, or is there something more? We’re born for a fleeting moment in the grand eternity; we’re born to, after driving along the highway of life, die. Aware of failure, we set off, dazed and full of doubts, on another, hitherto unknown road…