As the summer comes to an end and the new academic year begins, what better film to mark the occasion than Richard Linklater’s 1993 comedy classic Dazed and Confused, on the 30th anniversary of its release? Much like George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973) and Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967) before it, Dazed and Confused offers an engrossing depiction of the ennui of teenage and young adult life, as groups of Texan high-schoolers navigate the last day of school in 1976.
Despite an initially poor performance at the box office, grossing just under $8 million from a $7 million budget, Dazed and Confused has grown in acclaim over the years. Quentin Tarantino named it as one of the 10 greatest films of all time in his 2012 Sight & Sound ballot; Variety’s Zack Sharf hailed it as one of the defining films of the 90s American indie movement. All in all, Dazed and Confused has truly cemented its position in the cult-classic canon.
The mark of Dazed and Confused can clearly be seen in contemporary works such as Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart (2019) and Nima Nourizadeh’s Project X (2012), both also depicting high school students partying over the course of 24 hours. The film was also part of a resurgence of ‘70s aesthetics in fashion, such as through the regained popularity of bell-bottom jeans from the early 2000s to today. As well as this, the film has left a lasting impact on the industry by launching the careers of many of today’s stars, such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and Milla Jovovich.
But what is it that has kept Dazed and Confused in the pantheon of comedy films, 30 years on? It is likely in part due to the unique feelings of nostalgia that it creates. Filled with cultural references to its 1970s setting, the film evokes a sense of nostalgic longing for this time in its audience, even for those who weren’t alive to experience it in the first place. This is done not only through the iconic soundtrack—featuring the likes of Alice Cooper, Bob Dylan, and The Runaways—effortlessly immersing the audience into the ‘70s as if they were really there, but also through the script and ensemble cast. Through depicting the wide spectrum of emotions within the universal coming-of-age experience, viewers can identify with the characters, regardless of differences in time or place.
Linklater’s realistic, yet captivating script seamlessly places the viewer into the lives of the cast without glorification. Rather than experiencing transformative moral lessons or changes in worldview, we watch our characters go through their daily lives and activities without regard for the traditional three-act narrative structure; it is the ubiquity of these situations that our cast finds themselves in that makes the film endlessly relatable to audiences new and old. One of the few consistent devices used to push the film forward is the anticipation and excitement of buying tickets to an Aerosmith concert later in the summer, a feeling familiar to generations of music fans today as they try desperately to secure high-demand gigs on Ticketmaster. Additionally, the increasingly hazy conversations of stoner philosophy and conspiracy theories that fill the script as the night progresses would not seem out of place in the smoking areas of London’s clubs today.
At an event in Austin, celebrating the films 20th anniversary in 2013, Linklater described his intention with Dazed and Confused to create an ‘inverse John Hughes’ film, rejecting the unrealistic depictions of growing up common in the coming-of-age films of the 80s (such as the aforementioned director’s 1986 film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). It is ultimately this decision to portray teenage life as unglamorous and relatable, rather than high-stakes and extravagant, that sets Dazed and Confused apart from its contemporaries. Through this, Linklater is able to offer an honest celebration, not a glorification, of youth in the face of the anxieties of growing up. Despite looming adulthood and the fears of a predetermined future, Linklater urges his cast and audience to embrace their freedom and each other, and to stop taking life so seriously.
This theme underpins the entirety of the film, but is perhaps put most succinctly by Marissa Ribisi’s character Cynthia: “I’d like to quit thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor insignificant preamble to something else.” Similar sentiments are surely not unfamiliar to students today, as we find ourselves in an almost-limbo period between childhood and adult life. But Dazed and Confused reminds us that, despite this, we must take full advantage of our youth before it slips out of reach.
As Dazed and Confused celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, I have no doubt that this timeless film will continue to resonate with audiences for the next 30 years and beyond.
Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor