Of all the high school movies I’ve seen (good and bad), “Dazed and Confused” is the closest approximation to what I actually experienced. No, not because of the smokin’ and tokin’ or ritualized hazing. But more because the film is arguably the least sensational film ever made about teenagers.
Think about it, half the movies about teenagers are either leaden with doom and gloom (“Rebel Without a Cause,” “Kids,” “River’s Edge”). The other half portray teen life to be a non-stop hedonistic Bacchanalia of sex, drugs, booze, etc. While the characters in “Dazed” certainly party, the party in question is just a simple beer bash with one keg where the usual things happen: some people get into fights, some people hook up, some people act like fools, though most of the partygoers don’t do any of these things. At the end of the party (when the booze runs out), most people go their separate ways and that’s that. Nothing life changing happens, no character dies to show us that “partying is bad,” nobody gets laid and becomes a different person, and interestingly, no sense that this party changed any lives, good or bad. It’s just … over … and on to the next day.
The next time you watch “Dazed,” carefully look at the way it’s edited and shot. While the film has a lot of comedic moments, there’s an odd sense of dread permeating the entire film. Canadian film critic Robin Wood was the only person to describe it as a horror film and Linklater apparently wrote him a personal “thank you” note for noticing this. The dread that I get from “Dazed” has more to do with the sense that what lies ahead may not be as cool as the characters think it will be. There’s a lot of sequences that are shot in slow motion with sound mixing that doesn’t look anything like you’d see in a comedy. In my mind, the sense that nothing ever changes and/or necessarily gets much better is horrific enough for Linklater, that showcasing a death or OD or some other traumatic event would be overkill.
The other interesting thing (and why it reminds me so much of my youth), is the distinct lack of rigid divisions between cliques. Certainly, cliques exist in both “Dazed” and the high school I went to. But most people I knew may have belonged to a certain group, but most mingled freely with others. A lot of high school films, from “Mean Girls” to “Heathers” to most of John Hughes’s oeuvre portray a caste system worse than India’s and maybe that’s true for some schools, but it wasn’t my high school experience. Maybe I’m seeing a rosier past that I actually experienced, but I remember seeing “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” when I was a teenager, and while I could identify with certain things, a lot of it seemed like alien territory to me.
The attached trailer gives a decent flavor for the film, but it’s regretful that it’s played up like a Cheech and Chong comedy. Granted, I wouldn’t know how to market this thing either (complex works of art usually are), but I think the advertising campaign gave a false idea of what this movie was and I think this is why it took a LOOOOONG time to find an audience. Thankfully, it did.