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Dazed and confused about Dazed and Confused

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

I just wrapped up watching Dazed and Confused, and it’s 1 am, and I’m a little dazed and confused feeling, but I thought I’d try and get some thoughts down before I pass out for the night.

Whenever I watch a film I enjoy, my first instinct is to check its wikipedia article. Which is a lousy instinct really, as there’s usually very little in the way of analysis up there. But the scraps of old reviews scattered in the article (and I don’t mean to be down on Wikipedia, I love me some wikipedia, it’s a great thing, I’m just not using it right) talked about Dazed and Confused as if it were a distanced observation. The writer and director, Richard Linklater, was described as an anthropologist. As if he has no investment in the time.

To me, it seemed a much more personal movie. It seemed to be a movie very specifically about nostalgia. It was made in the early 90s. Linklater was born in 1960, so he was about my age. Early 30s anyway. And it is very specifically set in 1976 (When Linklater would have been 16). It’s a movie about high school, about graduation, about moving onto the next stage of life.

If the film is preoccupied with nostalgia, then the characters are preoccupied with the present. And that struck me as the most honest part of the film. Looking back on my own teenage years, my tendency is to imagine it as a time when I was trying to work out who to be, what I would grow up to be. But I wasn’t. I think that’s very much my obsession now. Trying to chart the path to a better tomorrow. When I was a teenager there was the innocent assumption that everything would work out just fine.

I tend to like teenagers, at least seen from a distance. There is a purity to their self-obsession, to their self-confidence. They are utterly unaware of it in a way I find slightly charming. In adults, that level of narcissism would drive me insane, but it seems like its the right of teenagers to be utterly short-sighted. And the reason, I think I like it, is because I’m kind of jealous of it. I would like to have the blinders put back on.

Once the twenties are gone, and life is moving on, the chance to screw up is increasingly behind you. Mistakes have greater consequences. And the crazy thing is, early 30s isn’t really that old. There is far more life ahead than there is left behind. But those moments of teenage innocence, those moments of being purely in the now, are harder to grab.
So, I suppose, if I think Dazed and Confused is about anything, I think it’s about that. It’s about the need to sometimes just be in the moment, to make the most of the moment.

Near the end of the movie the character Don has as close to what I think of as a manifesto for the film:

Well all I’m saying is that I want to look back and say that I did it the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could when I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could when I was stuck in this place. Dobbed as many chicks as I could when I was stuck in this place.

I like that refrain “stuck in this place.” We’re all stuck in this place. This now. This is it. This is what we have. And I want to be able to look back and say that I did the best I could while I was stuck in this place. It’s hard, when you’re more aware of the consequences. But I think its something worth trying for.

Sleep now.