5 out of 5 stars

Loosely structured around a cast of interconnected characters, Dazed and Confused is set on the last day of term at Lee High School. While many of the senior students gear up for Kevin Pickford’s (Shawn Andrews) house party, the school’s star quarterback grapples with conflicting notions of freedom and responsibility. Randal “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) is pressured to sign a pledge promising to abstain from drugs and alcohol over the summer break. As he contemplates his decision, the junior class eagerly anticipates the summer season. However, Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) has become the prime target of the annual upperclassman hazing ritual due to an innocent request by his sister, Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke). After Dan O’Bannion (Ben Affleck) takes pleasure in tormenting Mitch, Floyd offers to take the young freshman under his wing for the evening. As the night unfolds, the various characters ponder their growing pains as they face the transition from one grade to the next.

With the help of casting director Don Phillips (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Dazed and Confused features an incredible array of young talent who would eventually become indie darlings and Academy Award winners. A procession of future Hollywood stars populate the corridors of Lee High School, including the aforementioned Ben Affleck (Deep Water), Mila Jovovich (The Fifth Element), Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy), Parker Posey (Scream 3), Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan), and Rory Cochrane (Empire Records). Standing out from the crowd is Jason London (The Rage: Carrie 2) as the promising young quarterback grappling with social pressures and personal responsibilities—Randal “Pink” Floyd. He delivers a delightful performance, naturally portraying the human side of an athlete reluctant to sign an abstinence pledge. Similarly, Wiley Wiggins is excellent as the coolly charismatic freshman, Mitch Kramer. Naturally fluctuating between embarrassment and burgeoning self-confidence, the young actor would go on to collaborate with the director again, starring in his philosophical dreamscape Waking Life (2001).

One of the resounding reasons why Dazed and Confused is fondly remembered is due to Matthew McConaughey’s (Contact) iconic performance as David Wooderson. Infusing the character with an inimitable nonchalance that’s instantly appealing, the young actor displays glimpses of the instincts that would eventually make him a star. Initially, McConaughey didn’t appear suitable for the role during his audition. In Melissa Maerz’s book Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, the director stated “I thought he was too good-looking, Matthew looked like he’d do fine with college girls. I needed Wooderson to be a little creepier.” However, McConaughey seamlessly transforms into the character. Influenced by Linklater’s material and his childhood acquaintances from his hometown, the actor fully inhabits the role and begins churning out signature dialogue such as “alright, alright, alright” with his pelvis thrust outwards. A less insightful actor might have portrayed the older, lecherous graduate as a disgusting predator. However, McConaughey balances the character’s inappropriate jokes and dangerous behaviour, being always on the right side.

Few filmmakers have consistently proven their ability to capture the universal experience of young adulthood more accurately and engagingly than writer-director Richard Linklater. His Before Sunrise (1995) portrayed an honest and insightful story of human connection. Boyhood (2015), on the other hand, was a sprawling meditation on everyday existence.

While essentially following the same blueprint as his breakthrough hit Slackers (1991), Dazed and Confused exemplifies Linklater’s talent as a filmmaker, transforming his idiosyncrasies into a successful formula. While the narrative remains largely episodic and free from conventional structure, several plotlines connect the various stories. Set against the backdrop of the annual hazing of incoming freshmen, Floyd wrestles with signing his pledge, while Mitch is invited to join his peers. Ultimately, these digressions form a cohesive narrative that resembles an updated American Graffiti (1973) for a contemporary audience.

However, unlike George Lucas’s timeless classic, Linklater doesn’t attempt to depict the supposed “biggest night” of a generation’s life. Rather than experiencing transformative moral lessons or changes in worldview, we follow the everyday absurdities of teenagers navigating the exhilarating territory between childhood and adulthood. The ubiquity of the situations the characters find themselves in lends these moments their verisimilitude. Although Linklater may have been inspired by his own formative experiences, it’s a unique sensation that we all recognise, have all experienced, or yearn to experience.

In the wake of a decade dominated by John Hughes, Dazed and Confused emerges as the antithesis of high school comedies like Weird Science (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Linklater rejects unrealistic portrayals of adolescence, opting instead to observe the mundanities of teenage life with the keen eye of an anthropologist. Whether it’s Slater (Rory Cochrane) tinkering with the carbonation on a bong during class, or the neurotic intellectual who overanalyses every social interaction to the point of self-defeat, almost every scene features compelling and authentic character beats. Through these everyday moments, Linklater wrangles truths that are both profound and universal, depicting adolescence authentically in its alternating states of transcendence, frustration, and boredom. This recognisable honesty is what elevates Dazed and Confused above the plethora of copycat comedies that followed, and its influence continues to resonate throughout contemporary works such as Lady Bird (2017) and Eighth Grade (2018).

One of Linklater’s greatest strengths is his understanding of the unspoken power of music. Alongside Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing), he utilises the sonic landscape to electrify his narrative and as a storytelling device. Almost every needle drop becomes an extension of the characters’ complicated emotions and infuses each scene with a potent emotional undercurrent. The opening sequence of Kevin’s orange Pontiac GTO is the first of many perfect marriages of sound and image. Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” hints at the mixture of melancholy and anticipation that stems from the start of the last day of school. Whereas Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” captures the overwhelming sense of freedom when the final bell rings. The crown jewel might be during the closing scene as Wooderson and Floyd drive down the highway to Foghat’s “Slow Ride.” The final image left for the audience is Wooderson continuing to do what he wants… take it easy.

Dazed and Confused is easily overlooked as a fun but frivolous high school comedy. However, there’s a brilliance to it that’s often underappreciated compared to its contemporaries. It forms part of a long lineage of films, including The Last Picture Show (1971) and Diner (1982), that perfectly capture the anxieties of young adults who can’t appreciate the present. This theme underpins the 102-minute runtime as several characters spend the night discussing their struggles and stumbling through their existential problems.

Floyd is so pre-emptively jaded about his future that his anticipated dread prevents him from celebrating what should be his glory days. While discussing his unsigned pledge of purity, he mutters, “If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.” This sentiment is echoed elsewhere when Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi) spouts some calculated hedonism while grappling with a similar issue. “If we’re all going to die anyway, shouldn’t we be enjoying ourselves now?” she asks. “I’d like to stop thinking of the present, like right now, as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else.”

One of the least discerning characters dispenses some of the most casually profound wisdom. Through Wooderson’s benevolent and insightful mindfulness, Linklater delivers his philosophical lesson about the fleeting nature of youth. Playfully expressing his life-affirming proverb, Wooderson drawls, “You just gotta keep livin’. L-I-V-I-N’.” In this single, artfully delivered sentence, Linklater reminds his audience that despite the brutal nature of societal structures and the ever-present fear of looming adulthood, it’s vital to cherish the fleeting moments and subtle changes of the present. The dramatic moments and major life changes are inconsequential; it’s what happens in between that holds significance. This theme would eventually become a cornerstone of the filmmaker’s work as he continued to explore the intangible essence of youth and celebrate hedonistic freedom with Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!! (2016).

Though Dazed and Confused wasn’t particularly commercially successful, it established Richard Linklater as a promising new talent. It’s an authentic time capsule that perfectly captures the exact period it’s set in, delivering an intimate portrayal of adolescence. It acknowledges the complexities that arise during secondary school, yet finds humour in navigating such vulnerable experiences. This sensitivity is what makes it connect with the audience emotionally and ensures it remains relevant three decades after its release.

USA | 1993 | 102 MINUTES | 1:85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Limited Edition 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray Special Features

Dazed and Confused has been given a fantastic 4K restoration by Criterion. Boasting an immaculate 2160p Ultra-HD transfer, the image was sourced from the original 35mm camera negative and supervised by writer-director Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel (Before Sunset). Presented in its native 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this spectacular transfer delivers a beautifully rich image.

The transfer is a remarkable upgrade compared to Criterion’s previous Blu-ray release and looks noticeably healthier. The colour restoration has been substantially improved, boasting richer colours, natural flesh tones, and healthier film grain. Dolby Vision beautifully intensifies the yellows and browns, accurately reproducing the warmth of summer during outdoor sequences. Similarly, primaries have received a healthy boost and remain more saturated. There’s a considerable amount of detail and nuance visible that was lost on the previous release. Finer details in intimate compositions, such as clothing textures and facial hair, appear far more prominent and sharper. Dolby Vision shines during the night-time sequences. Blacks are more inky, with the broader dynamic range allowing for distinct shadows and better depth in every scene. Overall, this presentation is the best Dazed and Confused has ever looked and owners of the previous edition have a reason to purchase this classic once more.

Dazed and Confused features an English DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound audio track with optional subtitles. The lossless track boasts excellent fidelity and a surprising amount of dynamism, which perfectly complements Linklater’s exquisite choice of music. The sublime soundtrack sweeps the soundstage and offers excellent clarity without any distortion. The side and rear channels add significant weight to the occasional atmospheric effects, while the dialogue remains crisp and clean, primarily anchored at the front channels. Overall, the track only yields negligible improvements over other formats, but it’s a very suitable presentation for the film.

  • New 4K digital restoration of the director’s cut, supervised and approved by director Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
  • One 4K UHD disc of the film presented in Dolby Vision HDR and one Blu-ray of the film with special features.
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Audio commentary featuring Linklater.
  • Making “Dazed,” a documentary by Kahane Cooperman.
  • Rare on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Footage from the ten-year-anniversary celebration.
  • Audition footage and deleted scenes.
  • Trailer.
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Cast & Crew

writer & director: Richard Linklater.
starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams & Adam Goldberg.