Slacker (1991)

Slacker

Slacker

Directed and written by: Richard Linklater

Recommended? Sure

Kevin Smith says that Slacker was the inspiration for his film Clerks. It shows. And more than that, it shows what happens time and time again in art and media: first, political radicals and engaged philosophers create new styles and genres; then, derivative work picks up the aesthetics and surface-level ephemera and leaves the core behind.

First, political radicals and engaged philosophers create new styles and genres; then, derivative work picks up the aesthetics and surface-level ephemera and leaves the core behind.

On its surface, Slacker is an aimless film about coffeeshop philosophers, wandering conspiracy theorists, time-burglars (people who burgle you for your time), regular burglars, and other low-life unemployed slackers in 1990 Austin, Texas. Underneath that (and frankly, not very far underneath) is a political understanding best summed up in a simple quote from the film:

“Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.”

This is a film of people who have withdrawn in disgust from contemporary society. Clerks, a wonderfully- entertaining movie I almost feel bad picking on, is just a movie about apathy.

This very-much-politicized idea of rejecting society is played up again and again, from the cafe scene where a student wonders aloud “could it be that in my passivity, I will find my freedom?” to the man in the collective house who goes on at some length about how the non-voting majority has won every election in US history.

There are critiques aplenty to be lain at the feet of this as political praxis, of course, but that isn’t something I plan on going into here.

Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.

Slacker is fundamentally an anarchist film on several levels: first, thematically, the film is about this politicized disgust; second, the film is shot in a way that eschews traditional filmmaking, centering no character or even group of characters as the protagonists; third, one of the most sympathetic characters is an out-and-proud anarchist, an elderly gentleman who befriends a burglar who is trying to rob his house. (To nitpick, he claims that Leon Czogolsz was Polish-born. Czogolsz was born in the US.)

There’s also a feminist undercurrent in the film, though one that might be interpreted as anti-feminist as well. Most of the characters are men, and quite a few of these men are creeps, mansplainers, and man-babies. My read is that these characters exist to satirize such bastards and their crap behavior, but who knows. All I’m certain of is that I cheered for the women explaining how happy they were to be single and I cheered when another woman chewed out her piece of shit intellectual-wannabe boyfriend for being a piece of shit intellectual wannabe.

Honestly, I kind of can’t tell if I just watched an excellent film satirizing mansplaining… or if I just spent almost two hours of my life being mansplained to.

I’m not usually much of one for plotless tales, but the bizarre mix of voices and ideas and stories woven into this film kept me entertained and thinking, even if I wanted to punch like half the characters in the face.

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