Characters that I love #7 – Matthew McConaughey as David Wooderson – Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

A Time To Chill (*regular caption writer on holiday)

“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age. Yes they do…”

And so runs the manifesto of Matthew McConaughey’s David Wooderson and the brotherhood of borderline sex criminals he represents. Incapable of relinquishing their never-ending youth and the abundance of teen babes that accompany it, these man-children live out a perpetual adolescence in the manner of stoned, sex-crazed Peter Pans. McConaughey depicts the creepy older guy we have all encountered; forever knocking around with school-age teens in order to impress them with his car, drugs and shitty taste in music. The appeal of this type of character should be restricted to those young enough not to know better, but unfortunately I see something in this man that I admire. For one thing Wooderson looks pretty fresh in this film. This breed of man often does, for the elixir of teenage poon fends off the ageing process far more effectively than regular exercise and the occasional Berocca.

The techniques employed by Wooderson in order to entice underage girls seem almost quaint by today’s standards. Rather than taking a couple of kegs of low quality American lager to an isolated stretch of woodland, the modern day nonce-lite plies his trade in squat parties and Red Bull sponsored music events, shovelling bumps of Ketamine into the faces of his teenage conquests while remaining ever alert to the threat of potential sexual rivals. Contemporary courting rituals may seem unsavoury when compared those depicted in Dazed and Confused, but both methods ultimately yield the same unpleasant results. It is a dance as old as time itself.

Possibly the most remarkable thing about Wooderson is that it is a role performed by Matthew McConaughey that forces the viewer to neither a) leave the cinema while muttering obscenities under their breath, or b) calmly walk over to the DVD player, press eject and then launch into a 5-minute tirade at the expense of his girlfriend who had ‘accidently’ added The Lincoln Lawyer on to their shared LoveFilm list. Linklater, seemingly imbued with supernatural powers when directing this film, also manages to elicit an excellent performance from the usually interminable Ben Affleck, who portrays sadistic jock Fred O’Bannion. Having been held back an additional year at High School, O’Bannion relieves his frustrations by feverishly chasing around androgynous pubescent boys in order to strike their buttocks with a wooden paddle/replacement penis. Obviously a wholly unsympathetic character, Affleck depicts a sexually confused teenage boy possessed of reduced mental and emotional faculties with admirable precision.

There are obviously darker facets to the kind of character that Wooderson represents, but Dazed and Confused is not the film to address them. The positive feeling engendered by this playful coming of age comedy would be heavily compromised if the audience were to be exposed to the everyday realities of Wooderson’s life as lived away from pool halls, Aerosmith concerts and the backseat of his Chevrolet. I would love to see a film that depicted the day-to-day drudgery of his job ‘in the city’ and the grim reality of the hangover suffered by a man approaching his thirties. It could be a drama in the style of Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, presenting the portrait of a man so crippled with self-doubt he is unable to relate to his own peer group, so must ingratiate himself with the senior year students at his local High School. Each year he must watch his new friends leave him behind as they depart for the adult world from which he has been excluded.

In a recent study of black-headed Spider monkeys (yes it’s a real animal) it was shown that adolescent primates abandoned by their mothers or reared by particularly neglectful ones face an increased challenge when assimilating into their peer group. They tend to be improperly socialised and therefore unable to form bonds within their own cohort. They were most commonly embraced by a younger member of the group and formed closer ties to younger monkeys. Looking at the uncanny parallels in the behaviour of Wooderson and these fucked-up monkeys, I’d be very surprised if Linklater did not have a very similar back-story in mind when creating the character of David Wooderson. So next time you see a grown man in his late 20s/early 30s parked at the gates of your local sixth form college, pumping the latest indie hits from his VW Polo, resist the urge to laugh, or even key his car. In all likelihood you are looking at a very damaged, insecure man, who has never recovered from the trauma of being abandoned by his mother.

Contributor Jack Scragg runs the blog Big Balls and can be followed on Twitter @noncewing.

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2 thoughts on “Characters that I love #7 – Matthew McConaughey as David Wooderson – Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993)

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