Scene by Scene explores an auteur’s finest moments — the scenes that let you know you are in the hands of a master storyteller. This week, in honor of the Blu-ray and DVD release of his latest film, Last Flag Flying, Sam will reflect on the magic moments of Richard Linklater’s career.
From experimental indie movies to mainstream popcorn fare, Linklater has an eclectic filmography. But there’s a recognizable piece of himself in every one of his films. And even as he grows older, you can sense that he is speaking to his younger self — the Texas drifter who stumbled into filmmaking and let his imagination run free.
Here are five of the many mesmerizing scenes that remind us why we love Linklater.
5. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!: “LET THE EXPERIENCE FIND YOU”
“Don’t be afraid to let the experience find you,” a young stoner says in a moment of pot-induced clarity. This line is partly played for laughs, but it also represents a philosophy that Linklater sincerely stands by in many of his films. From the high school students in Dazed and Confused to the pothead baseball players in Everybody Wants Some!! and the Vietnam veterans in Last Flag Flying, Linklater’s characters accept life as an unpredictable ride.
As his films amble along in the breeze, they fill us with a moment-to-moment sense of discovery. Linklater’s best movies turn us into flies on the wall and make us wait patiently to find the magic in the mundane.
Everybody Wants Some!! drops us in the house of a college baseball team and lets us tag along as they go out drinking, crashing parties and cruising for chicks. Although these experiences seem simple and inconsequential, the film quietly emphasizes how formative they really are. Fun can be profound. We all search and yearn for it yet we sometimes dismiss it as something unimportant. Here, in one of his best films, Linklater encourages us to escape — to rid ourselves of guilt and let fun find us.
4. DAZED AND CONFUSED: “JUST KEEP LIVIN'”
Near the end of this high-school masterpiece, Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) sits on his school’s football field and contemplates playing by the coach’s rules. His friend David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) swaggers across the turf and says, “You gotta do what Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd wants to do, man. The older you get, the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’. ”
Wooderson’s words of wisdom sound like the sort of advice Linklater followed throughout his career. He played by his own rules and made the kind of films he truly wanted to make.
I watched this film for the first time near the end of junior-high, and it made me look forward to the future, to a time when I could make my own choices and do exactly what I wanted to do. It was precisely what I needed as an adolescent and an aspiring filmmaker. Dazed and Confused inspires me to this day.
3. BEFORE MIDNIGHT: TRUE LOVE TIME MACHINE
You know when you’re watching a great movie and you can sense it about to end on such a perfect note that you can barely contain your excitement? And you squirm in your seat while the last scene unfolds in a way that feels like pure magic? And it’s so good that you can’t believe it and you feel like you’re in a dream? That’s how I felt during the last few minutes of Before Midnight.
In the midst of their couple’s quarrel, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) turns to Celine and says, “If you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It’s not perfect, but it’s real.” This is a perfect summary of a love story trilogy that evolved from dreamy romance to raw reality. The weight of their relationship is particularly palpable in this scene, and you can feel it long after the film is over. You can sense their pain and resentment but also the love and hope beneath it all.
This scene is bittersweet, feeding our nostalgia for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset while also reminding us of how quickly people grow and change. I left the theater longing to see Jesse and Celine again but also wanting them to stay in this cinematic time capsule.
2. SCHOOL OF ROCK: BATTLE OF THE BANDS
This is the most profoundly crowd-pleasing scene of Linklater’s filmography. After posing as a prep school substitute teacher and shaping his pupils into musicians, wannabe rocker Dewey Finn (Jack Black) takes them to a Battle of the Bands competition in the hopes of skyrocketing to musical success. As the students’ parents watch their children express themselves with the utmost confidence, their anger over Dewey’s swindle fades. In the midst of the performance, he achieves something far more important than rock star status; he emerges as a great teacher.
When he stage-dives into the crowd, we feel the warmth of their embrace, and Dewey’s relief becomes our own. It’s a beautiful portrait of a dreamer rising from rock bottom and getting to where he wants to be. In the hands of a filmmaker who came from humble beginnings, this scene radiates with sincerity. I shed a tear or two every time I watch it.
1. BOYHOOD: “THE MOMENT SEIZES US”
As the film’s hero, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and his first college friend, Nicole (Jessi Mechler), sit on the gritty grounds of Big Bend Ranch State Park, we marvel at how far Mason has come. Nicole turns to him and says, “You know how everyone is always saying ‘Seize the moment’? I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around — you know, like, the moment seizes us.” Then, in the closing shot, Mason looks up at the sky the same way he does in the film’s opening moment — with pure, childlike wonder. He seems slightly worried as a child in the beginning, but a smile spreads across his teenage face in the end. His exuberance builds as he thinks about diving into the great unknown.
This scene summarizes the common theme throughout Linklater’s filmography — the idea that life sweeps us up and takes us wherever the wind blows. Dazed and Confused explores this theme through a night of spontaneous high-school joy rides. Before Sunrise taps into it with a random romance. And Boyhood embodies this idea in the freewheeling way it was made — little by little over the course of 12 years, without any idea of what the future would bring.
You never quite know what to expect from Linklater, but you can count on him to seize you with intimate, inspiring moments.