25 Years and Still L-I-V-I-N’

The Legacy of Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused."


It’s been 25 years, and it’s safe to say that most of America is still l-i-v-i-n’. Of course, that is to say that Monday was the 25 anniversary of the coming of age classic “Dazed and Confused.”

Richard Linklater’s seminal booze and drugs filled comedy/ drama not only launched the careers of actors such as Ben Affleck, Mila Jovovich, and Matthew McConaughey, it’s also helped high schoolers around the globe learn a little bit about life and themselves in the process. Set over the course of the final day of school in 1996, “Dazed” fit a smorgasbord of lessons on maturity into its relatively brief 103-minute runtime.

It could be argued that the main two characters of the ensemble film are soon-to-be high school freshman Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) and soon-to-be high school senior Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London). While there is an assortment of side characters (who could forget Wooderson?), the film primarily belongs to these two.

“Pink” is the quarterback of the high school team, and remember, this is high school football in Texas, so the importance of the position couldn’t be much bigger. He’s not a typical jock, however. He hangs with all three subsets of high school culture.

That is to say, he’s a member of the freaks, the geeks, and the jocks, and in no particular order at that. This is much to his head coach’s chagrin. In the Coach’s eyes, Pink’s going down the wrong path, to which Coach thinks he needs to re-focus on what’s important (of course, football).

This leads to the creation of a contract, given to the entire football team to sign by the end of the day, which forbids the use of alcohol or drugs for the benefit of “our goal of a championship season in ’76.” Of course, Pink doesn’t want to sign it, even though his fellow players pressure him to do so throughout the course of the film.

It’s not what is in this contract that’s important, although to a high school senior, it probably would be. It’s what the contract stands for, and by the end of “Dazed,” Pink understands that.

If the end of high school is supposed to signify a point of maturity and the beginning of adulthood, that should mean that a person must decide his/ her moral code and make their own mistakes if they choose to do so. This is why at the end of the film, Pink tells the Coach that he may in fact choose to play football in the fall, but he’s not going to sign the contract.

At this point, Pink is making his own steps to become his own person. He’s already chosen not to fit the mold of jerk jock by associating freely with several different groups, he’s already shown kindness to those in need by showing sympathy to some incoming freshman, and now he’s showing sympathy to himself by not being what everyone else wants him to be. This is a lesson that should be learned by everyone. Be your own person and live by your own terms, for what’s life without the comfort in knowing that you are your own person?

On the converse of this is Mitch Kramer. He’s on the baseball team, and when entering high school, it’s tradition for upperclassmen to haze the hell out of freshmen players.

Through no fault of his own, he’s signaled out by the biggest d-bag of the upper-class team. Kramer’s journey through the first half of the film can be basically summarized as him trying not to get caught by the seniors. He eventually is, of course, and is paddled accordingly.

It’s only after this that he’s taken under the wing of the one and only Mr. “Pink” Floyd. Floyd takes him to parties, introduces him to girls, and guides him through the minefields of consorting with older folks.

This is where the two’s arc’s collide. While Pink is learning to become his own man, Kramer is learning to come out of his shell and to face his fears.

He is paddled and hazed by the older dudes, but afterwards they treat him like one of the guys. This is not to say that what the older kids did was okay by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it helped Kramer learn something.

Sometimes what you fear most is only in your head. He thought that the events he’d experience would be the end of him. In actuality, however, they were sort of a beginning.

One could imagine that Pink’s character went through something similar to this when he was a freshmen, and it turned him into the man he is when he throws the contract away. It’s these small lessons that have made “Dazed and Confused” into the phenomenon that it is.

Regardless of where you are in life, what you look like, what you like to do, we all have to learn a lot of the same lessons. These include becoming your own person, overcoming your fears, and opening yourself up to new people and new experiences.

I know that “Dazed and Confused” helped me grow up, and it’s been doing the same for people for 25 years, and it’ll keep doing it for much, much longer. Here’s to l-i-v-i-n’. Now, I’ve got some Aerosmith tickets to buy.