How “Dazed and Confused” Uses Weed as a Symbol for Self-Agency
By Noah Dauncey
The ‘70s: known for its mullets and use of the phrase “right on.” Among the bell bottoms and station wagons, another interest sparked in cities across America—a little green bud by the name of marijuana.
“Dazed and Confused” is a 1993 coming of age story by Richard Linklater set in the ‘70s. It features an ensemble of students at a local high school, varying from soon-to-be freshman to graduating seniors, as they go through their last day of school. What follows is a cluster of events, from hazing rituals to party hopping to (you guessed it) taking some puffs of the devil’s lettuce.
If you look closely, you might even catch a glimpse of some A-list actors before they got big. The film stars a young Ben Affleck, who could teach a masterclass on being a jerk, and this is the feature film that launched the career of acting legend and (as established in last week’s article) certified beautiful person Matthew McConaughey. In fact, this is the origin of his beloved catchphrase “all right, all right, all riiiiiight.”
How does getting high and destroying mailboxes create character development, you ask? It starts at the very beginning of the movie when the main character, Randall Floyd, whom everyone calls “Pink,” is given a contract by the coach of the football team stating that he promises to avoid partaking in drugs and alcohol over the summer, lest he be kicked off the team.
Pink, being the quarterback, is put between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, the team needs him, but on the other hand… he likes drugs and alcohol. Throughout the movie, the few adults of the film are constantly reminding him to sign the contract. He keeps it folded and tucked into his shirt pocket the entire film, a constant presence pressuring him to make a decision.
As this inner turmoil marinates, the film takes a look at some of the rites of passage in which young high schoolers all around America were taking part. Baseball games, secret parties while the parents are out of town, parties ruined when the out-of-town parents come back early, the seniors spanking freshman with paddles (was that an actual thing? I went to school in Canada, so I have no idea what weird things you Americans did).
The film gives multiple points of view: we follow a young boy entering his freshman year having the night of his life after being invited to hang out with a group of older kids, some hooligans playing mailbox baseball and causing general destruction, a heroic revenge story on big bad bully Ben Affleck, and Pink’s dilemma with the sobriety pledge.
After a night of shenanigans, Pink finds himself at the end of his journey on the school football field, the home of the ever-present contract issue. Pink and his friends end up tossing a football and smoking weed until sunrise. When the cops come, the coach promises to look the other way if Pink finally “ditches his loser friends and signs the contract.”
It is here that Pink finally makes his decision. He is not going to let others tell him how to live his life. If he is going to play football next year, he’s going to play football next year. This isn’t Pink simply wanting to get high all the time; rather, it’s the principle of having independence, the freedom to rebel if he chooses to.
His coach won’t be the only authoritative figure in his life, but as long as Pink has a choice, he’s going to make those choices of his own volition. The weed is just a symbol of this proclamation; it’s a placeholder that can be substituted. Yet, Richard Linklater expertly uses it to tell a story of a man who just wants to smoke some weed, play some football, and score some Aerosmith tickets. Right on.