Writer/Director Richard Linklater is the king of the ramble. From his debut, Slacker, to the hazy Dazed & Confused to the delicate cadence of the Before series to the formulative memory vignettes of Boyhood, Linklater has made a career of roundabout raconteuring. Everybody Wants Some!! brings his lackadaisical, narcotic strut at its highest potency to a Texan college baseball team in the heart of the ‘80s.
Linklater has also earned a reputation as a sort of taco stand philosopher, having his characters chat about existentialism over beer and some good tunes. Everybody Wants Some!! is his greatest achievement in that genre so far, chauffeured around the team’s off-campus housing and its orbiting parties, practices, and local bars by freshman pitcher Jake (Blake Jenner, sporting a Linklater-like shagginess). Though the rich-hued picture slowly drifts along sunny dirt roads and populated parking lots, there’s bright enthusiasm bursting from every nook.
From this team of skirt-chasing, binge-drinking, freshman-hazing jocks, the movie carves out a philosophy closely modeled after Albert Camus’s 1942 philosophical essay, The Myth of Sisyphus.
Late in the film, Jake and his crush Beverly, played by Zoey Deutch, meander down a river, tubing in the dawn before first classes. They discuss life, goals, and desires – the kind of post-pillow talk that comes in the blur of a new love. The pros and cons of leaving their hometowns to a larger college, becoming small fish in a big pond, sink in as Jake raises a Sisyphean analogy for baseball. Striving over and over for something seemingly meaningless might appear to be a waste of time, but then again, isn’t everything? And isn’t it beautiful that we get to be passionate about anything at all in our time on this world?
Camus raises a similar argument when faced with a cruel world, one that punishes the just and allows the wicked to run rampant. He admits that trying to find solid purpose in this world can be pretty disappointing. Why is God silent and why does tragedy exist? Is the logical answer suicide? Jake’s teammates would say to shut up, freshman, your purpose is to get them a beer. Eat, drink, score, and be merry. To some extent, the Nobel Prize-winning Camus would respond, yeah, you’ve pretty much got it.
The Frenchman loved football (soccer) – when asked if he preferred soccer or the theater he said “Football, without hesitation” – and women (as many as possible). But Camus hit a philosophical wall, defining the perception of this world’s meaninglessness as “absurdity”. We exist in such an absurd world because we, as humans, tend to search for meaning and purpose where none exists.
Everybody Wants Some!! structures its world in the same way, reflecting our own. Nice guys are thrown off the team, well-meaning farm boys are relentlessly mocked, and foolproof pick-up lines fail. If these unfairnesses seem slight, it’s because these guys live an easy life, but one no less absurd.
Camus responds to an unfair world and suicidal thoughts with, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer”. Perhaps life will be better lived with no meaning. Better living through meaninglessness, that could be a good way to describe Linklater’s filmography: an invincible summer. But what about suffering? What about meaninglessness? We can’t just say it’s good and make it so.
So we’re back to Sisyphus.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus displeased the gods and landed in the Greek equivalent of mega-hell. The gods gave him a boulder and told him to roll it up a hill. Each time, when it reaches the top, it rolls back down. Absolute futility. His success met with immediate reversal and renewal. Tortuous, right? Well, Camus says that Sisyphus is aware of his damnation and, rather than form a new religion hoping to save him or throw himself off the mountain, he embraces it in the moment. He enjoys every inch, every mineral, every sweat and grunt. By enjoying his meaningless task (the repetitive schlock of life), he revolts against it.
Now we’re back to the struggle of the philoso-jock.
Each game’s victorious goal, each season’s strive towards the championship, each party’s feminine prize – “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”. Jake and all his teammates are. They embrace their stupid, meaningless sport. They enjoy their struggles with the game, with each other, with love and life. Though they all admit their social dominance is short-lived, which is also personified by a certain character’s removal from the team, they remain passionate and unfettered by pro dreams. Their existence, and Linklater’s philosophy, isn’t one of reaching a peak and being finally done, but reveling in the daily absurdity. The house parties, the punk rock Gilligan’s Island theme songs, and the pretty girls who might just compliment us to piss off our friends.
They might not have particularly hard lives, but they’re living them right, meandering through Linklater’s “invincible summer”.