Dazed and Confused: 20 Years On

Movies and Books

It’s a definitive moment of 90s cinema, the era of Gen X slacker flicks: Six high schoolers sprawled on the 50 yard line of their empty football field, gazing at the ink-blue canvas of a pre-dawn sky and trading hard-hitting stoner thoughts on the meaning of life.

“If I start referring to these as the best years of my life,” says Pink, the star quarterback and alpha dog of the school, “remind me to kill myself.”

“You just gotta keep on livin’, man,” comes the now iconic response from Wooderson, the twentysomething womanizer with greasy hair and a faint mustache. “L-I-V-I-N.”

Such existential ramblings, at once satirical and deeply profound, transformed Richard Linklater’s 1993 low-budget comedy, Dazed and Confused, into a coming-of-age cult classic.

It follows a group of students on the last day of school in 1976. What happens? Not much, other than what usually happens–underage drinking, unsupervised parties, first kisses, pseudo-hazing rituals, and a whole lot of soul searching. By the time dawn breaks, Linklater has given us a hearty throwback to the 70s, a soundtrack full of classic rock anthems, and a pair of future superstars: Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.

But Dazed and Confused is more than just an authentic portrayal of the rebellious and indulgent 70s youth culture. It is an impressionist painting of the adolescent mind, expressing the timeless struggle to escape mediocrity and find purpose, to discard the future and embrace the now. Its characters are as familiar to us millenials as they were to Gen Xers upon its initial release 22 years ago. They are reckless yet empathetic, lazy yet passionate. They are, for the lack of a more apt phrase, dazed and confused–as we are now.

“I’d like to quit thinking of the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else,” says Cynthia the redhead scene-stealer, in what could be a mantra for the youth movement.

With seamless transitions from one vignette to the next, Linklater’s understated direction captures the immaturities of youth with an observant, compassionate eye. The weakness of the script, marked by one-dimensional characters and incoherent plotlines, actually adds to the haziness of adolescence and the realism of the filmmaking. The absence of plot twists keeps viewers fixated on the characters’ hilarious and deceptively deep dialogue, giving us an unfiltered look into the teenage soul at a moment in time.

Unlike two other seminal high school movies, Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused skirts pivotal occasions like pregnancy and graduation, focusing instead on the mundane events and conversations we’re most likely to forget. Like those of Heckerling and Hughes, Linklater’s high schoolers are flawed and privileged, irresponsible and irreverent. But rather than showing how they are capable of change, he brings forth their redeeming qualities: self-awareness and loyalty. They’re slackers and thinkers who could not care less about societal progress but would do anything for their friends.

To Linklater, adolescence is the accumulation of fleeting moments that we take for granted–silent drives around town, trivial gossip and aimless musings about life. Over the years, those moments dissolve into the abyss, leaving behind just a shadow of the frustration and optimism we felt in those painfully beautiful years.

The combination of quotable one-liners, quirky characters and nostalgia for the 70s gave Dazed and Confused its lasting legacy and ageless appeal. We remember Wooderson’s pick up line (“Alright, alright, alright.”), Slater’s Martha Washington monologue (“She a hip, hip, hip lady, man!”), and Mitch’s freshman initiation beating. We remember the bell-bottoms and denim overalls, the Aerosmith opener and the Foghat closer.

But more sharply, we remember the sense of familiarity that envelops us when as we consume each scene, mentally flicking through instances in which we’ve said a similar thing or felt a similar way.

Dazed and Confused isn’t inventive or inspiring. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a fond reflection on the American youth culture and how little it has changed in four decades. It reminds us that even as the world becomes unrecognizable, we can still find parts of ourselves in relics from the past. 

Yay May

Musings/Rants

Hi. I’m going to crash in about 29 seconds so this will be a quick post. May is always the last month of the school year, so in about two weeks I’ll be essentially a junior. Half of my college career has come and gone. I can’t even begin to describe the aching emptiness that realization stirs up in my heart. I’m more than happy with the strides I’ve made this semester, socially, emotionally, and professionally…but whenever I look back I just can’t stop wondering how much better my life would be right now had I made different decisions, had I been courageous enough to trust my gut. Regrets are such a bitch to deal with. Yes they help you reflect and mature, but honestly I’d go back to being that retarded immature kid if I could roll back the seconds and erase some booby tracks on my road map. I don’t care about lessons. I just want those years back.

You know how people always say mistakes and regrets teach you shit? That with them you’ll be a better, more complete person? So rather than loathing them you should appreciate them? But I just don’t, you know? Whenever I reminisce on my regrets (which I guarantee you is a lot of the fucking time), I don’t think about the lessons they’ve taught me. I think about the things I should have and could have done instead but will never be able to because time doesn’t rotate counterclockwise.

Yeah well I’m still crying over spilled milk. Can’t help it.

Why I Adore Boyhood and Indie Movies in General

Movies and Books

I’ve been wanting to write about both Boyhood and indie flicks for a long time. Since I started blogging, to be quite honest. I kept putting it off because I’m scared of writing reviews on things I love and I’m petrified of failing to meet my own expectations. If I’m excited to blog about something, I expect it to be spectacular (to me, at least). And way too frequently, it’s just not. Anyhow, I’ve decided to just fuck it tonight because it’s so late and I so can’t sleep. I need NyQuil.

So many people hated Boyhood because “nothing happens” and the acting is poor. The first part is technically false but visually true; the second part is 96.9% false. You see, if you’re watching a completed three-hour film obviously something must have happened. A cat farting is something happening. Two people talking about the color of fart is something happening. A boy growing older is something happening. So people claiming “nothing happened” should really just look up the definitions of “things” and “happen” before they open their stupid mouths. Okay, that’s not really fair because the first time I watched it, I too thought, “Why am I so attached to a movie about a some boy going through puberty?” Visially, nothing much really happens at all. There’s no climax (lol), no plot twists, no drama. So yes, Boyhood isn’t your typical Hollywood blockbuster.

But drama does not consist exclusively of action and suspense and noise. It contains tension, emotion, and unexpected changes, none of which have to be coupled with violence or scandal. I think Hollywood blockbusters have trained us into believing that drama and subtlety are mutually exclusive. If your nails don’t dig into the seat rests and your jaws don’t land on the ground at least once, then that movie sucked because “nothing happened.” If you’re neither shocked nor confused nor euphoric nor devastated, then you’ve wasted 1/12 of a day of your life.

The magic of Boyhood is in its realism – its unfiltered, unflinching portrayal of a physical and emotional movement through time. Yes, “nothing happens,” but isn’t that the whole point? Nothing happens when we’re growing up. We just grow up. Literally. Our adolescent years aren’t defined by our first kiss, or the one time we got caught smoking weed, or even graduation. Those are the light posts that illuminate a plain, dark road. That road is our journey, and it’s defined by the mundane moments that we’ve taken granted – awkward silences during family meals, endless arguments about grades, PMSing, getting dressed for school, writing essays deep into the night, talking till dawn with your best friends. And all the laughter and all the tears – you can’t even remember what inspired them but you know they were everywhere during those unforgettable years.

Maybe you’re whipping your head left and right as you’re reading this. Maybe you’re thinking that the definition only covers the highlights, otherwise we’ll never be able to sum up anything succinctly. That’s probably true.

But listen to this: my adolescence is my first kiss, my first drink, my first run in with the cops, and my graduation.

Isn’t that ridiculous? Adolescence (I don’t know exactly when it starts or ends) covers a good decade of our lives. 1/8 of our entire lifespan if we’re lucky enough to die of old age. It should be a struggle to define such a significant period of our existence. Adolescence is a blurry mess of challenges, changes, resentment for parental control, anticipation for college and freedom, and longing for childhood innocence. It’s a plethora of paradoxes. And the only way you define a plethora of paradoxes is by making a three-hour epic over 12 short years. Good luck.

In the end, what I love most about Boyhood…and indie films in general, is that it makes you think twice about the mundane. Boring is a funny word because I don’t think it applies to anything. Calling something boring only confirms our own laziness. If something is complex, call it weird; if something is ordinary, call it dull. It’s so easy to do, and it masks our ignorance. This may be a horrible comparison, but I feel like indie films are the introverts of the film industry. Quirky, quiet, and overshadowed by its louder, more charismatic counterparts. We need indie films as well as introverts, because along with thinkers we need things to make us think.

Lonely and Alone

Musings/Rants

“If you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” – Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Parts of that quote are always lingering in the back of my mind, but I never could remember the whole thing. So I cheated and searched it up on Google. As a life-long introvert, I know exactly what she’s talking about, and if I let myself I’ll always agree with her. It sounds so good. It makes me sound so good, like I’m this quirky social misfit who’s just too hipster, too smart, and too mature for the crowd she’s unfortunately stuck with. But I don’t think that’s how it works. It’s true that loners like me don’t enjoy solitude, but it’s not because the rest of the world keeps disappointing us. It’s because we’re too afraid to disappoint the rest of the world.

It’s difficult to explain this to socially adept people, but to hermits like us the world is a stage upon which we’re always terrified to fuck up, and because of this fear we always do fuck up. You see, for everyone else it’s so simple: you plan one thing, you practice, you execute. Most of the time that plan becomes reality. You think of something in your head, you decide it accomplishes what you’re trying to accomplish, and you say it out loud. The effect on your audience is instantaneous – they’ll laugh or cry or cheer or boo at your command. You’re the puppet master when you open your mouth.

It’s different for us. In our heads we can come up with the wittiest jokes and the most eloquent arguments, but in front of other people we sound like dyslexic four-year-olds reading a poem for the first time (sorry if that was an offensive analogy). I’m not even talking about expectation vs. reality in the philosophical, existential sense. I’m talking about simple mind-mouth coordination here, the ability to coherently translate into speech what we’re thinking. That’s why we live in our heads all the time. Because it’s the reality we want to be stuck with, even if it meant never being quite present in the reality we’re actually stuck with.

So we retreat into ourselves. We develop what we’re good at to avoid stepping out of our comfort zones. We find solace in the alternate universes we’ve built for paranoid minds. And we’re always in denial: “alone but not lonely,” “company is overrated,” “everyone is so fucking phony anyway,” “I’m happy this way.” Pretty much the, “people continue to disappoint them” point that Jodi Picoult was making. I’ll just speak for myself here: I’m a coward. Maybe the reason I’m an introvert and so many aren’t is that I just can’t handle humiliation. Maybe it’s that I’ve experienced that particular sensation way too many times when I was younger and couldn’t string together the simplest of sentences in the English language. Maybe I’m not happy being alone but it’s sure as hell a lot sweeter than stepping right into that feeling again.

We’re just tired of trying, even though we haven’t even tried all that hard. Hope always feels so small in comparison to failure. When you want to try just one more time, you can’t help but remember what happened the last time you tried – that frustration of failing to say what you’ve planned to say, the subsequent disappointment of knowing you’ve failed to make the most of yet another opportunity. And eventually you start wondering what the fuck is the damn point. That life of always having someone to drink with, shop with, walk with, talk to is just not meant for you. You will have people around, people you really care about, but most of the time you’ll be alone and you damn well better accept it.

That was a much longer post than what I usually put out, but this is a topic that’s very personal to me. I’m not depressed, and I am proud of the way my life has turned out. Being an introvert has many perks, like being just a bit more perceptive, introspective, and sardonic than others, but it’s really not a pop culture joke. Sometimes it’s refreshing and relieving, but it’s not fun being a social hermit. I just wanted to clear some misunderstandings about…us, I guess. If aloofness is how we project ourselves then it’s just a defense mechanism. We want to belong, trust me. It’s just that much harder when you’re trying to hide your nerves all the time.

If Your Wife Wants to Kill You…

Relationships and Shit

You know, the longer I think of it the more convinced I am that I’m going to turn into Amy Dunne when I’m 35. Either that or I’m going to marry an Amy Dunne and get Amy Dunne’d. These are Gone Girl references to illustrate the bleakness of my future. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, you’ll know that I’m likening myself to a slightly insane, marvelously brilliant, textbook psychopath who faked her own death just to frame her slimy husband because he cheated on her with a much hotter bimbo with big fucking tits (tbh I think Rosamund Pike is a lot more attractive than that other chick, but eh I don’t think with ma dick). If you haven’t read the book…well, get your act together, dude.

Anyway, I don’t think I’m intelligent or diabolical enough to actually pull off a fake murder and then pull off a real murder to get out of the fake murder. I can probably just burn the house down but I don’t really want to sleep in the park. I guess that’s why I worship her so much, because she actually has the talent and the craziness to pull off something many women in crumbling relationships probably dream of doing. And while I don’t have any homicidal tendencies yet, it is fascinating to think about all the different ways marriage can fuck two people up. Sometimes I’d like to be fucked up by marriage just to see how it will transform this demure little maiden into a vindictive, manipulative, psychotic goddess. We need more women in literature like Amy Dunne.

I’m not anti-marriage. I mean, sometimes I do see it as a part of my life…after 40 or 50. Alright, maybe 35, just as long as it stays the fuck away from the best years of my life. It just seems so bloody boring to me. It’s like, you’re both work from 9-6, then you get home for dinner and you talk about what happened at work. Then you probably watch TV for an hour or something. Then you go do your adult thing and then go to sleep and boom the day’s over. For the longest time, I thought that’s just what happens on TV. But then I saw my parents doing it. And then my mom with my stepdad. Of course that doesn’t apply to everyone, and I’m glad there are a lot of happily married chaps out there (whoop congrats), but eh I just don’t care for that shit. And that’s probably because I’m just gonna marry myself at 40.

Swan Song

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

It looks like a thousand dirty ravens all got shot at the exact same time, their limp bodies swaying and falling in the windy blue sky until they crash onto the grass.

Our last vision of high school. That’s what it looks like. How bloody anticlimactic.

The next few moments are a blur. Shoes stomping on fallen caps. Navy blue gowns colliding as everyone searched for familiar faces. A dozen arms encircling my shoulders. Hair tickling my neck, lips brushing my cheeks, screams piercing my ear drums. And tears. God, so many fucking tears I could almost taste the salt.

Graduation is a bit like a pompous eulogy celebrating the death of a monumental experience that you know was nothing monumental what so fucking ever. If you hadn’t just heard those phony, tear-jerking speeches that sound at once mopey and sanguine, you wouldn’t have felt half as devastated thinking that you can no longer call yourself a senior or that you will never see your best friends every week day or that maybe, just maybe, the best days of your life have ended as soon as you threw your cap into the sky.

I throw my cap into the trash can and look around for my friends. The only four, five people in a school of three thousand who tolerated my pessimism and nastiness for four years. They’re lost in a storm of blue, taking selfies or crying or laughing. I can’t see them, and I can’t see us walking out of this experience together.

I want to imagine us getting lost in the Louvre, touching the Berlin Wall, looking at up the pyramids – doing all the cliched shit tourists are supposed to do. I want to imagine us being together at Christmas sometime in the 2050s, surrounded by annoying toddlers and angsty teens.

Sometimes I just want to imagine us grabbing coffee together every five years and gossiping about all the obnoxious new people who have just stepped into our lives. But even that’s a bit too ambitious. We can say we’d keep in touch and be around but most likely we’d just move on, because that’s what we do when things get inconvenient. It’s easier to buy a new dog than train one that can’t hold its shit.

Maybe it’s more important to treasure what’s passed than worry about what’s ahead. Whatever happens over the next four or forty years, at least we’ve had the last four.

Me me me me meeee

Musings/Rants

I had a déjà vu moment on the plane yesterday. I was sitting next to two other college kids around my age. They could have been NYU students. We didn’t talk or even look at each other that often, but I kept thinking that maybe I’d bump into them around the city, in some random diner in the East Vilage or on the subway to Dumbo, or just in Econ class. There has to be some reason that three young adults were placed in the same row two days before spring semester took off.

That reminded me of my preschool days, when I was convinced that everything and everyone revolved around me. Maybe it’s a very typical prepubescent mindset, but the idea that most objects/people I encounter actually have nothing to do with myself and my life just made zero sense to me. I was still young enough to believe that everything had a purpose. Oblivion was a concept way too complicated and bleak for my untainted little head. I believed that everyone I spotted on the streets would, perhaps unbeknownst to me or them, shape my future in some small or big way. How or why never occurred to me. All I knew is that they wouldn’t have appeared in my consciousness if they weren’t important. Nobody passes by without leaving a footprint.

I don’t know if that was naive or narcisstic. It didn’t matter anyway, because I was a five year old dumbass. At five you can skin a cat and people would still call you cute. Uh I would, anyway. What I mean is that as a kid you have an excuse to be self-centered and naive. At nineteen you don’t. So I don’t know why the hell I thought that I’d meet those stupid people again just cuz they were my age and acted like me. Maybe because things like that happened in movies all the time, and I just wanted one part of my life to feel like a goddamn Hollywood cliche. Maybe I just haven’t been around college kids for too long. At least that’ll change soon enough.

Black Out

Bedtime Stories/Fiction

I rolled down the window and threw my joint out onto the highway, relishing in the chilly midnight breeze that slapped me across the face.

Driving alone at night was remarkably therapeutic. No sound, no images. Just miles and miles of blackness stretched out infinitely ahead, ornamented by a million yellow and red dots swimming in opposite directions, parallel to one another.

It could be a metaphor for life: hopelessly optimistic souls wandering through a seemingly endless journey so bleak and pointless that eventually they started praying for the end they had always dreaded. But then again, in our narcissistic little heads anything could be a metaphor for life.

Twenty minutes later my headlight was the only one illuminating the darkness around me. Maybe the weed was fucking with my head, but I never realized until now just how many shades of black existed at night. The stretch of concrete illuminated by my bright yellow headlight looked silver in comparison to the road behind the car. The outline of trees bordering the highway was so dark and dense that the wavy hills in the background faded to an ink blue. And the sky, the only thing that was truly black, became a gentle gray backdrop to its darker counterparts.

It’s all about perspective. Now that’s a metaphor I was hopeful for.

Fall Outs

Musings/Rants

Friends. Sometimes I think they’re the best things to happen to us, maybe even more so than family. They don’t ground you or kick you out when you make moronic decisions, and when they start to get on your nerves you can always dump their ass. God, that sounds horrible. My point is that friends are very, very important.

But despite our best intentions, we still let them slip through our fingers. We say we’d keep in touch and stay tight forever, but that’s just not how life works. And not how people work. Our circumstances and ourselves change too drastically and too frequently. Over the years, I’ve probably had four or five different best friends, none of whom I’ve talked to in a long time. It’s weird to think that at one point I told those people, especially the two from sophomore year in New Zealand, almost everything I believed in, dreaded, and dreamed about. If you’d ask me back then, I’d probably be crushed to think that once we go our separate ways I’d lose completely lose touch with them. How can you just never again talk to someone who holds some of your deepest, most humiliating secrets?

The truth is, however, I no longer feel anything about them. I mean, I still have a vague idea of what they’re up to through social media, mostly on Instagram and Facebook, but I haven’t personally chatted any of them in months or even years. It’s not a conscious decision on my or their (I think not, anyway) part; it just happened naturally. The people we were when we became friends are not the people we are now, and as we change we will drift apart. Maybe adolescent friendships are just meant to be temporary. Or…I don’t know if this sounds awful or not, but maybe those friendships just weren’t worth maintaining. Maybe the friends we make in middle school or high school are never meant to be a part of our real lives. Because if they really mattered, it would probably bother us a little when we no longer have them to confide in. Friends who truly made an impression on you don’t just sink into oblivion.

It’s been a year and a half since high school ended and I still talk to only about six or seven people. They’re probably the closest friends I’ve ever had, and I do envision us meeting up in different cities every five years or so and discussing all the stupid crap we’ve done. I hope we do, but maybe we won’t. Either ways, we’ve still had the most wonderful times together. We’ll have more friends who fade away than friends who stay. So with friendships, maybe it’s the experiences and memories that really matter.

Saturday Jukebox: Nostalgic Indie

Saturday Jukebox

Indie tracks often have a tinge nostalgia in both lyrics and tune. It’s one of the most compelling qualities about this genre of music. With Christmas and all the festivities winding down, I’m feeling a bit beat and bittersweet. Another season, another year. Maybe we’re just growing up too fast.

1. Cigarette Daydreams – Cage the Elephant

2. Fluorescent Adolescent – Arctic Monkeys