Before I saw Everybody Wants Some, Richard Linklater’s “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, I wondered if the original movie’s most scene-stealing character, Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson, would get a cameo. After all, Wooderson is by far the most enduring character from the original movie—his most immortal lines just keep L-I-V-I-N. It turns out, however, that none of the original movie’s original stars make return appearances. This makes sense, given that 23 years have passed since the original movie was filmed, while the new one takes place only four years later. Just look at what became of Rory Cochrane, who played Slater: Now that he’s the kind of tough-looking guy who can play Whitey Bulger’s muscle, he’s no longer fit to play a scrawny, college-aged stoner.
Wooderson does, however, get a “spiritual sequel”—and if you really wanna stretch it, you could argue that the character who resembles him is actually, secretly, Wooderson himself. I’m talking about the most scene-stealing character in Everybody Wants Some!!: Willoughby, the stoner played by 22 Jump Street’s Wyatt Russell. Some of the similarities between Wooderson and Willoughby are pretty superficial. Both characters are good-looking burnouts with dimples and long blonde hair, and both go by similar names. But the resemblance also runs deeper. They both share a similar philosophy that they eagerly impart to their younger, more impressionable audience. Wooderson preaches that you should ignore the rules society tries to force on you, be yourself, and “keep livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.” In his own character-defining monologue, Willoughby uses an extended musical analogy to deliver a similar message about, as he puts it, “embracing your inner strange”: While holding forth on the beauty of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless,” he tells the freshmen that they should “find out who they are” by “finding the space between the notes they offer you.”
But Willoughby and Wooderson might be more than just stoner-jock doppelgängers. You could reasonably argue that they are, in fact, one and the same person. After all—and here’s where we spoil the movie’s one big twist—we learn at the end of the movie that they would be the same age, that they share the same defining trait, and that they could even share the same name.
The twist: Though Willoughby claims to be a college-age kid, he’s actually about 30, or around the same age that Wooderson would be. (Wooderson is somewhere in his twenties in Dazed and Confused; McConaughey was 24 when it came out. Everybody Wants Some!! takes place four years after that movie; Wyatt Russell is now 29.) Moreover, “Willoughby’s” name isn’t Willoughby at all, and for all we know it could be Wooderson. “Willoughby” is just an identity he made up so that could hang around with the kids who still admire him. In other words, just as Wooderson hangs around and smokes weed with kids who are several years younger because they worship him, “Willoughby” does, too. That’s the thing about college kids: He keeps getting older, but they stay the same age.
This probably sounds like the kind of crackpot theory that, well, a character in a Richard Linklater movie might come up with, after one too many hits at the moontower. (To be fair, if you look at the back of a one-dollar bill, there really is some spooky shit going on.) After all, as far as I can remember, there’s no hint in Dazed and Confused that Wooderson is any good at baseball (though he is a former athlete accused of “reliving old glories,” and he says he’s “been thinking about getting back in school”).
But regardless of whether Willoughby literally is Wooderson, Willoughby is at least Wooderson’s spiritual sequel, and as such he serves an important thematic function as a counterbalance to the main theme of these movies.
Like Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is a paean to the wasted days of youth—“the fading moments of the now” where, often, the real learning happens. But, as nostalgized and idealized as these two movies may be, Linklater is not naïve about the risks of just staying in the moment and smoking weed rather than preparing for the future. In Dazed, Randall “Pink” Floyd has to decide whether to sign a pledge promising that he won’t drink, do drugs, or do anything that could jeopardize their goal of winning the next year’s championship, and the coaches warn him of the dangers of hanging around with guys like Wooderson. If the coaches represent rule-following in the service of achieving long-term goals, Wooderson represents breaking those rules and staying in the moment. In Everybody Wants Some!!, the players are asked to sign a similar pledge, and they’re constantly haunted by the specter of what could happen if they don’t plan for life beyond baseball. “Willoughby” represents someone who never thought about a future beyond school sports, and who is therefore damned to keep coming back to the playing field to try over and over to relive the same old glories.
There’s a connection here to the myth of Sisyphus, which the main character, Jake (Blake Jenner), chooses to tell in a positive light, emphasizing that it can be a gift to have a single-minded focus on one specific goal. Whether or not Willoughby and Wooderson are the same person, they’re set up as potential cautionary tales about what happens if you take Jake (and Linklater’s) message too unthinkingly, and pay attention only to today without thinking ahead to tomorrow. There’s a dark side, these characters remind us, to just L-I-V-I-N.
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