Lessons We Can Learn From Dazed and Confused

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We learn some valuable lessons from one of our all-time favourite coming-of-age dramas

It's hard to believe it now but when Richard Linklater's sophomore film Dazed and Confused hit the big screen in 1993, many critics dismissed it as a stoner comedy of little depth. 22 years on, and it is widely hailed as a cult classic, the ultimate exploration of 1970s teenagerdom. And rightly so – there are so many reasons to love it. The fashion, for starters (Milla Jovovich, we're looking at you); the cast of characters who feel like old friends (from the loveable pothead Slater and the troubled jock Pink to the inimitable, eternal high schooler Wooderson and dorky young aspirant Mitch); the killer soundtrack... the list goes on.

But undeniably, what makes the film truly great is its script – a gift that keeps on giving and seems to get better with every viewing. After all the story unfolds over the course of just one day – the last day of school before the summer of 1976, to be precise – and essentially consists of a group friends hanging out in a variety of different settings in a small Texas town. And yet it draws you in, and leaves you feeling desperately nostalgic for an era that was, for many, way before your time. Here, in celebration of one of our all-time favourites, we learn some valuable lessons from the film's greatest lines.

Play it cool
If there’s one thing Dazed and Confused teaches us, it’s the importance of cool. Admittedly in a 1976 sense, this is pretty much directly aligned with smoking pot (as marijuana virgin Mitch discovers). When Pink and Wooderson pick him up at the start of the night, Wooderson asks him if he has a joint. Trying to pass off the event casually, Mitch says he doesn’t have one on him, to which Wooderson doles out the iconic advice, “Be a lot cooler if you did.” Later Slater introduces himself to Mitch with an off-the-cuff, “You cool, man?” – AKA "do you smoke pot?" – to which Mitch replies a stammered, “like how?” Not quite cool enough, Mitch.

Don’t take everything at face value
One of the film’s best lines is uttered by beautiful, rabble-rousing teacher Ms Stroud who calls out to the kids as they file out of their final class, “Remember this summer when you're being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don't forget what you're celebrating, and that's the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn't want to pay their taxes.” A witty but poignant political dig, reminding us all to delve a little deeper into our respective country's past. Oh, and on that note, don't forget that George Washington was in an alien-loving cult. But you knew that already, right?

Follow your heart
Dazed and Confused frequently shines a light on the very real coming-of-age dilemma of whether to follow the path you feel you’re expected to take or your own heart. In one scene, Mike tells Tony he doesn’t want to go to law school, declaring unashamedly, “I wanna dance!” Another cracking piece of Wooderson advice is bestowed upon Pink, under pressure to forsake a summer of fun for the benefit of his promising football career, with the line, “Let me tell you this, the older you do get, the more rules they're gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin' man, L-I-V-I-N.”

Youth never ages
Another lesson, another memorable Wooderson line. This time the somewhat sleazy statement, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” But he unwittingly hits upon an interesting point – that as each generation of teenagers enters adulthood, a new one is already blossoming in their wake. Of course Dazed and Confused is very much time-specific in setting and feel but it captures the essence of youth, of what it is to be a teenager, in a manner that is utterly timeless.

Love's a game
"You want her?" Don Dawson asks Mitch about his crush Julie, "Gotta play it cool, you know. You can't let her know how much you like ‘cause if she knows, she'll dump you like that. Believe me. Like, if she asks you if you want a ride, you say, 'No, I've got my own ride, but maybe I'll see you later.'" It's an age old trick but when it comes to the first throes of romance, there's nothing like a little nonchalance to pique interest.

A sense of teenage ennui is normal
Very few teenagers actively enjoy their teenage years, rather they twitch through them, impatiently waiting for them to pass so they can get to the fun bit. “If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life – remind me to kill myself,” Pink says. And then there's the "Midnight in Paris" complex of refusing to see the up-side of your allotted era, a point demonstrated by Giovanni’s twin sister's “every other decade” theory: “The 50s were boring, the 60s rocked, the 70s obviously suck… Maybe the 80s will be radical.” What is amusing is that for the teenagers of 1993, the prospect of the hippie heyday just 17 years earlier would have been the dream. 

You Only Live Once
Yes, the final, most important lesson we can learn from Dazed and Confused is YOLO. The film offers two schools of thought on this: Cynthia's staidly philosophical reflection that she'd "like to stop thinking of the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else." And Mr Don Dawson's resolve to make the most of his situation by doing whatever he wants, as often as possible: "All I’m saying is that I want to look back and say that I did I the best I could while I was stuck in this place. Had as much fun as I could while I was stuck in this place. Played as hard as I could while I was stuck in this place… Dogged as many girls as I could while I was stuck in this place." Yet the sentiment is more or less the same – however you achieve it, be sure to embrace the present.