Before Sunset (Linklater, 2004)

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Watching this again, it’s clear the cinematic magic of Linklater’s vision remains untarnished (his fluid camera movements, the incredible timing of the acting and writing), yet for me the ambition and resonance the story initially produced has slightly dimmed. Maybe it’s the ease with which Hawke and Delpy fall back into an old familiar connection that disturbs me on a level I’d never realized before. The idea that people move on after grave disappointment, often fruitlessly hoping fate will save them from a life of emotional suffering, puts a darker spin on the seemingly whimsical material.

That Linklater makes the process so seamless (the meeting at the bookstore, the casual ramblings through the streets of Paris, the final beautiful Delpy guitar solo), shows the wonderful hopefulness the film desires but also the effortlessness form cinema can take. It’s as if, after nine years of dreadful existences with partners you hardly know or care for, one stop in Paris can still remedy a broken heart. Β While a fantastic example of Linklater’s devotion to the rhythms of character interaction (maybe only better on display in his Dazed and Confused), Before Sunset now feels extremely melancholy, specifically toward how much time the characters have wasted pining for each other over the years without any result. Once again, the Cinema saves the day.

Dazed and Confused (Linklater, 1993)

The great irony of Dazed and Confused, a film celebrating the vibrancy and unpredictability of youth, is that it only gets better as I grow older. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this masterpiece, but I do know with each viewing I’ve brought more of my own life experience to this story of growing up fast and in turn, gleaned more from Linklater’s vision. This time around, the director’s groupings of heroes and villains stands out, represented on the welcoming side by Jason London and Michelle Burke, and on the evil team, both Ben Affleck and Parker Posey. The heroes of Dazed and Confused are shepherds, gatekeepers dealing with their own changing identities, but also looking after the young freshman coming into their own with a little guidance from their experienced elders. Those that do not care about the future, the arrogant flunkey O’Bannion, played with ease and disturbing resonance by Affleck and his female equivalent played by Posey, wish to harm the youthful exuberance of Wiley Wiggins and Christin Hinojosa, probably because they were hurt themselves at that age. It’s an astounding dynamic between age groups – those that wish to pass on knowledge in a positive light (even if that knowledge is morally ambiguous), and those that wish to destroy expectations, futures, and hopes of finding friendships in an alien place called high school. Dazed and Confused uses this story structure, aided by one of the great soundtracks of all time, to realize a beautiful, life-changing night for many young adults (and some older ones, McConaughey). For me, it’s one of the 10 Best American Films of the 1990’s, because it speaks so clearly and fluidly to me as a growing, learning adult, deceiving pre-conceived notions and altering the way I remember my own memories. Richard Linklater has always been one of my idols, and I never could quite figure out why. I realize now, his films evolve as I evolve, and that’s the best compliment I could ever bestow upon a filmmaker.

Fast Food Nation (Linklater, 2006)

Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation captures the corporate soullessness of American institutions unlike any other recent film. Using the fabricated fast food chain Mickey’s as a model, the film’s scope is sweeping, covering a number of groups including illegal aliens from Mexico who work in the meat packing plant, a company executive (played by Greg Kinnear), teenage employees of the restaurants, and student activists at the local university trying to bring light to the issues at hand. All are entrenched in the cycle of modern corporate America, even though some don’t realize it until late in the film, and it’s a costly naivetΓ©. Fast Food Nation is unconventional for American mainstream cinema in that it’s completely and overtly political, a direct attempt to reveal the atrocities and inhumane activities being committed by these large, machine style companies. The bottom line is all that matters (as seen in the great scene with Bruce Willis’ crooked negotiator and another involving Kirs Kristofferson’s wise rancher) and Fast Food Nation assembles a multitude of different valid critiques on this system, the most impressive being the final horrifying sequence of the cows being slaughtered on the “kill floor” of the processing plant. Linklater fuses this scene with a deliberately toned down score (most of the movie has non-diagetic music overflowing the image), following Catalina Sandino Moreno’s immigrant worker Sylvia toward her new job from hell. Linklater means business, but waits till the end to really lay on the money shots of filth, blood, guts, and skin. This strategy is extremely effective because it surpasses and disgusts the viewer at the same time. He’s weaned us on character interactions with very little visceral touch. That all changes with his montage of cow slaughter, and this transition saves the film from being too flat. The final act of Linklater’s film is filled with these moments, rectifying the sometimes monotonous interactions seen earlier. It’s not his finest moment (and Linklater has many), but Fast Food Nation is a daring and risky expose of the stinking, rotting smell of Western greed, and the impotency regular citizens feel when faced with such faceless opposition. Fast Food Nation gets to the heart of this complex relationship between buyer and seller, never forgetting to make time for the liver, the spleen, and the gut wrenching punch to the stomach American’s desperately need to wake up and smell the shit.