Richard Linklater is a connoisseur of the everyday. He captures the intricacies and trivialities of regular life, showing the importance in the small, making the common and unimpressive grand beyond belief. In some ways, Linklater is like Terrence Malick in how he reveals the wonder in the mundane through his films. Where Malick is focused on nature on a large scale, Linklater points his camera toward the far more ordinary. Summer nights, high school parties, and other assorted moments that seem so simple, so regular, relatable even, are turned into events of mammoth meaning and truth. In one of his very best movies, Waking Life, Linklater goes to the extreme of this trend and turns the average into a free floating, philosophical wonderland.
Although it’s far more present in Waking Life, Linklater has always sort of been making films about a wholly intellectual dreamscape. Dazed and Confused, which I would designate his masterpiece, rises above as more than just the average high school flick by not only capturing the fleeting ephemeral nature of the time in which the film takes place, but by commenting on the situation that it depicts and asking questions about the whole. Linklater’s style is laid-back and humorous, leading some to dismiss him as the antithesis of a “true artist,” a claim that is nothing short of absurd. Linklater is as true an artist if there ever was one, and in between Slacker (his debut film) and his most recent achievement, Boyhood, he has completed nearly fifteen films in all, in addition to a menagerie of other smaller projects.
Part of what makes Linklater so fantastic, and possibly so understated, is his lack of cynicism. The inherent sincerity he carries to each and every film he makes, whether it be a rollicking Jack Black comedy or a soulful meditation on relationships and marriage, it seems like with each new project Linklater merely wants his audience to truly feel what he feels, and then some. Strip away the reservations and irony that cloud most people’s minds and just bask in the beauty of an open night on the last day of school. He reminds me somewhat of the great writer David Foster Wallace, earnest and genuine in his pursuit of displaying to the audience the same emotions he’s feeling. A white knight unfettered and still fighting in his pursuit of helping the world witness the heartfelt, and Boyhood is a near perfect example of this image. In the film’s final shot, with Ellar Coltrane looking forward into the future, Linklater captures the precise feeling of possibility and wonder that Linklater has been working with from the very start of his career.
There were times after his last film’s release amid the initial rupture of effusive praise that a backlash began to form. People scoffed at Boyhood, using such favorite words of the jaded critic as “pretentious” and “overrated.” Boyhood is not a perfect film, but to call anything made by Richard Linklater pretentious is patently absurd. Linklater manifests the opposite of pretension. His mission is to simply make good films that show life how he sees it. He’s relaxed and open about everything he does, never hiding behind the veneer of a brooding artist or anything of the sort. The ambition behind Boyhood is what got it much of its publicity, but really it was Linklater doing what he does best, and what he has been doing for over twenty years now. Showing life and and the joy one can find in living it, livin’ man, L-I-V-I-N, to quote Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused.
One can only hope Richard Linklater will continue to pump out as many wonderful ruminations on life as he has already for years to come. We need the philosophers of the universities, the Kubricks and the Malicks, to contemplate existence and time and all the headiest of heady ideas, but more than ever we need the Linklaters, the street apostles of local corner convenience stores, the stoner scholars who tell us a hell of a lot more than we initially realize we are taking in amid the fog of reefer cool. Richard Linklater is a humble and understated genius and it is high time we recognize him for it. Life can be difficult so often and there are so few things to be sure about, and having the films of Richard Linklater is something we should take great comfort in, because while we keep getting older, his films stay the same, timeless and undoubtedly beautiful.