Mise-En-Scene in Dazed and Confused
An Analysis of the 1993 Richard Linklater Classic.
I got the great fortune of analyzing the Movie Dazed and Confused. One of my all-time favorite movies, this paper is about the mise-en-scene that played into the plot.
Congratulations Jared Leto! You have just won an Oscar for the best-supporting-actor! For the millions watching all over the world, what speech did you prepare? Naturally, Jared Leto uttered the most famous three words by one of the creepiest characters in the movie Dazed and Confused. The very first film of a man who would also go on to win an Oscar that night, Matthew McConaughey. What a long strange trip it has been.
Dazed and Confused is a real love letter to the art of filmmaking. The perfect example of the hero’s journey, the conflict’s faced by 55 characters in the film, woven together brilliantly in the third act. Without The use of sound, editing, locations, costumes, props, directing, this would not make sense.
Now I know technically sound isn’t part of what would be considered mise-en-scene. I would argue though that in this movie the music is part of that setting, achieving nostalgia instantly and setting the tone of the entire film, it is a layer that is vital in almost every scene. There are few movies, that are not musicals which use music in this way. This film has arguably one the best soundtracks of all time.
Nostalgia just hits you in the face in the first minute of the movie. Aerosmith Sweet Emotion starts to play before the scene even starts; establishing shot, beautiful, rare muscle cars driving in slow motion through the High School parking lot. Incredibly skilled editing gives a brief glimpse of the main characters and respective social groups before the movie even begins.
Would the movie be the same thing without that Aerosmith song? I think the argument should be made that the music is just one layer of mise-en-scene, a crucial one in fact.
Richard Linklater salutes his home state of Texas in almost every film he makes. Dazed and Confused is also set in Texas, it doesn’t play a huge role in this film. Texas only really plays a part in the portrayal of the high school football culture. The “Friday Night Lights” way of life is a genuine product of Texas and is the plot device of the personal conflict of Randal “Pink” Floyd. Perhaps, because I am a product of a small Texas town, I am keenly aware of this.
Richard Linklater is a director who does not mind taking his time to get a project right (exemplified in his Oscar-winning movie “Boyhood.”) He has spent most of his career working on films that seem to encapsulate different generations.
In every tiny detail, Linklater puts into the film, no matter when you were born, this movie transcends time. The conflicts (in hindsight so trivial) the mischief, friendships and the unique characters were not exclusive to the 1970’s. The setting and time period are set using mise-en-scene techniques such as hairstyle, clothing, cars, and music.
Something that gobsmacks me about Dazed and Confused is how he had cast more actors who would go on to be incredibly famous at the very beginning of their acting careers. I think about the consequences of if this movie wasn’t made. Would we know the work of Mila Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Rory Cochrane, and Joey Lawrence Adams? Would they have gone on to star in other generational centerpieces like Empire Records, Clerks, Mallrats, Resident Evil and the Fifth Element?
I can’t think of a single director that has made more movies geared toward Generation X. Absolutely everything is relatable! Outside of the hazing, every person I know spent their time cruising, looking for parties, hanging out at billiard joints, committing acts of stupid mischievous deeds. We all had these characters in our lives one way or another (minus the creepy Wooderson.)
It is not hard to understand why this is a movie is part of the criterion collection. It will be memorialized by those of us who lived this teenage life before the technological kidnapping of the millennial generation. Our kids may not understand this, and they might not have had friends like this. They weren’t lucky to be entrenched in this music, these kinds of cars, and especially face to face friendships, but that is their loss
If you were born into generation X, Linklater makes it absolutely clear that he understands everything that went on in the hearts and minds of his characters, and shares it with us largely with mise-en-scene. So many of us went experienced those individual issues with some form of conflict, transformation, and resolution.
The brilliant dialogue happens in the familiar places, giving insight into what is said in the girls’ bathroom and when cruising or at parties. Frustratingly Generation X isn’t credited with intellectualism, this movie disputes that. I don’t think that this movie would be any good if it weren’t so entrenched with intense dialogue.
“OK, guys, one more thing. Hey, this summer when you’re being inundated with all this bi-centennial, fourth of July, bru-ha-ha just remember what you’re celebrating. That’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning aristocratic white males didn’t want to pay their taxes.”
The conflicts are resolved throughout the course movie, especially during the third act “Beer Bust.” However, just as the first sequence is a masterclass in editing, the final sequence is as well. The seniors are hanging out with those “bad influences,” all of them stoned and drunk in the gigantic high school football stadium. They know they are defying a contract most signed that day promising they would do the opposite. Randall, the main protagonist’s resolution happens here, with a heated confrontation with the football coach. He ends it by showing his defiance, getting into a beautiful car and taking off to Houston to get Aerosmith tickets.
I was a junior in high school when I discovered this movie, and I think I have seen it over 100 times but that’s what I love about Dazed and Confused. Man, the older I get, it stays the same age.