As the summer movie season ramps up, people with wildly different tastes are all looking forward to seeing at least a few great movies. Some movie fans may be interested in the biggest blockbusters that dominate every summer, while others may be more focused on comedies or even the indie dramas that will populate theaters. Each of these types of films represents an aspect of what summer at the movies means, but there are a few that are quintessentially summer movies.
Among those, perhaps the greatest is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, which follows a group of teenagers on the last day of the school year. It’s a movie about the anticipation of what’s ahead that also looks back with longing toward the past. It’s also a movie replete with summer energy. These are five reasons why it’s still the best summer movie ever made:
One of the more obvious reasons Dazed and Confused so effortlessly evokes summer is that it’s set on the last day of school, a ritual familiar to almost everyone in America. In following such a vast array of characters across the course of this single day, Dazed makes a conscious effort to include the perspectives of basically everyone who is celebrating the newfound freedom that summer will bring with it. The vast majority of people watching Dazed and Confused may be adults, but almost every one of them remembers the feeling of utter freedom that came when that final bell rang.
Summer can often be an excellent time for reflection, and one of the best things about Dazed and Confused is the way the movie’s characters are both excited about their prospects for the future and wistfully looking back at the time that has already passed them by. This is a fairly common idea in Linklater’s filmography, but it’s the twinge of sadness that he inserts amid all the revelry here that makes the movie’s hold so lasting.
There are plenty of interesting characters and performances in Dazed and Confused, but none of them compare to Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson, an already graduated student who still hangs around the high schoolers. As creepy as Wooderson reads in certain moments, McConaughey seems to have a total grasp on who he’s playing, and manages to find both plenty of laughs and a little humanity inside this character, who is suffering from a severe case of arrested development.
One of the quintessential rituals of being young in the summer is somehow winding up on your high school football field at the end of a long night. Is that a ritual that Dazed and Confused started? Part of the magic of this movie is that it feels possible. Either way, though, the movie’s evocation of this ritual is yet another way that it seems designed in a lab to evoke youthful memories of feeling totally freed from the responsibilities of the school year, and yet completely drawn to the rituals that school brings with it.
As great as school can be for self-discovery, there’s something almost magical about the way that summer can clarify who you are and what you want to do. Amid this star-studded ensemble, one of the movie’s central figures is a young man trying to figure out if he wants to play football in the fall. His ultimate decision, which is not to tie himself down just yet, is a reminder of the possibilities that come with being young and that there are plenty of advantages to keeping every option open for as long as is possible.
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