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(Credit: Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans / Alamy)

The beauty of Richard Linklater's slacker philosophy

“There’s only one instant, and it’s right now. And it’s eternity.” – Richard Linklater (Waking Life)

This existential point of view spoken by an animated version of Richard Linklater in his 2001 film Waking Life is one that suffuses itself throughout the whole of the director’s filmography. Each imbued with the same slacker mentality, Linklater’s films exist in a smog of cigarette smoke and amongst the back-and-fourth of philosophical banter. Waking LifeDazed and Confused, and Slacker proudly pronounce this intention in their appearance and subtext, whilst mainstream titles Fast Food Nation and School of Rock obscure their philosophy with thrilling guise.

Though, outside of the juvenile pot-smoking musings of adolescent teens in Dazed and Confused, which can be easily satirised, there is a genuine philosophical approach to the films of Richard Linklater that accesses a unique cinematic quality. Concepts of the perpetual march of time and its relation to human existence and memory have forever interested artists, though with the scope of this concept being so large, its execution often proves hard. 

This is an area of close examination for Richard Linklater, whose narratives often toy with the concept of time, even if not explicitly so. Each of Tape, SlackerDazed and Confused, and all three instalments of the captivating Before Trilogy, take place in a single day and explore the inner boundaries of the people that exist in their ephemeral moments of time. Linklater creates contradicting cinematic confines, depicting people both defined by their 24-hour existence yet also refusing to fall victim to time’s ceaseless stride. Linklater’s characters, from Dazed and Confused’s Pink to Before Sunrises’ Jesse, define themselves by the absence of time, living in the moment for the moment. 

It’s something that Linklater explicitly explores in 2014s coming-of-age epic Boyhood, wherein the final scene of the film, protagonist Mason is discussing the imminent future with new college friend Nicole. “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around, the moment seizes us,” she says, surrounded by the wilderness of the Rio Grande. It’s a whimsical moment, that whilst overly sentimental, well explores the human experience of time, at least the subjective experience of Linklater, who projects this same philosophy onto his films’ characters. 

Throughout Linklater’s filmography, he presents characters who reject the status quo in place for a more soulful existence that embraces the joy of the moment. It’s Dewey Finn in School of Rock, Jake in Everybody Wants Some!! and even Bernie Tiede in Bernie, if the character’s aren’t still ambitious adolescent’s they’re trying to allocate the same bohemian fearlessness of their youth. As Linklater commented about the state of adolescence upon the release of Slacker in 1990: “You kind of have to deprogram yourself of everything, of what your parents wanted you to do or what education has taught you and really find out what you want to do”.

To capture the ephemeral passage of time, Linklater presents a series of moments, finding meaning in the apparent meaninglessness of the everyday. Life is brief and time incessant, but Linklater teaches us to enjoy the pure joy of the frivolous moment.

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