"The years shall run like rabbits, For in my arms I hold The Flower of the Ages, And the first love of the world."
But all the clocks in the city Began to whirr and chime: "O let not Time deceive you, You cannot conquer Time.
-W.H. Auden (“As I Walked Out One Evening”)
Ethan Hawke’s character quotes these Auden lines to Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise (1995), Richard Linklater’s first film in a trilogy whose sequels (2004’s Before Sunset and 2013’s Before Midnight) complete a trilogy about love, impermanence and the passage of time.
It may be true that “You cannot conquer Time,” but the attempt to conquer it through moment-capturing art and particularly cinema (which Andrei Tarkovsky calls “sculpting in time”) can be quite beautiful. This pretty much sums up Linklater’s Before trilogy, his Boyhood masterpiece and many of his other films, including the just-released Everybody Wants Some. Linklater is a filmmaker who knows well the powerful potential that cinema has to capture that peculiar, elusive mystery of time: at once something painful and beautiful, relentless and restorative.
Everybody Wants Some is ostensibly a raunchy R-rated college comedy, a “spiritual sequel” of sorts to Linklater’s 1970s comedy Dazed & Confused (1993) and something in the vein of a Seth Rogen sex comedy. But really this is a film as much about the preciousness and the pain of time’s passage as any of Linklater’s more “refined” arthouse films. Everybody Wants Some is less overt in its philosophical probings than, say, Waking Life (2001) or Slacker (1991), but it is no less profound.
The film plays out in the final weekend of summer before the start of the semester at a Texas college. Periodic “__ hours left until classes begin” text on screen reminds us of time’s passage throughout, much like the real-time framing of Before Sunset or Before Midnight do, or the “watch actors grow before your eyes” structure of Boyhood. Time’s persistence is inescapable in Everybody Wants Some, but not in depressing way. Not in a nihilistic YOLO way either. This is just life, universal: the end of summer, the transitions of the seasons, the beginnings and ending of friendships, the losses and gains of growing up.
Everybody Wants Some follows a hard-partying baseball team living in a raucous college house. New freshmen have arrived and go through predictably funny hazings. Parties and beer and bongs and sex pervade. But nothing all that exciting happens. What is surprising about the film is how much of it is actually about the mundane ways the men in the house “pass the time” as it slips away: ping pong games, darts, knuckles, basketball, drinking games, marijuana games, and other pre-digital amusements. Games. Competition. Striving. The film ponders the centrality of such things in human existence, competition as a primary mechanism by which we make sense of time and our place and purpose within it. Sex is situated in this context, as one among many ways that the cycle of victory, defeat and struggle plays out.
The Greek myth of Sisyphus is invoked in a beautiful conversation between two characters late in the film, and it’s a thematic lynchpin. Whatever else may be recalled as we look back on our lives, the passion and striving to do something, to make a mark, to win, is everywhere evident. Whether it be baseball or parenting (see Boyhood) or trying to stay awake in class, challenges mark our lives. When they don’t, we must invent them, which is why sports, games and competitive amusements (fantasy football anyone?) rise in popularity in cultures where survival needs are met and comfort reigns (“Frontiers are where you find them,” writes a professor on the chalkboard at the end of the film).
Everybody Wants Some is brilliant not only in its observations about the striving nature of man in a universal sense, but also in its perceptive portrait of these specific men in this particular place at this particular time. Like Linklater’s Boyhood or Malick’s Tree of Life (to name just a few examples), the experiences of these individuals in a particular culture and time are highly specific and yet deeply resonant. They are slices of time, cross-sections of particularity that capture Texas jock life circa 1980 so well that even those far from that world can see themselves in it.
This sort of art invites a familiarity not in that we all nostalgically recall frat house beer bongs and line-dancing to "Cotton-Eyed Joe,” but that we all can locate ourselves in the passage of time, wherever we were then or are now. We recall moments and seasons. Period films, those that truly care about every detail and ambient texture of the time (like this one), compel us in part because they confront us with the reality of time, what was and is no more. This is what makes a film like Boyhood, with its bittersweet chronicling of the all-too-quick passage of childhood, so poignant.
At a time in history where the recording of the present (via photography, for example) is easier than ever but so quickly cycled through or amassed to the point of meaninglessness, deep dives into the intricacies of forgotten moments are so valuable. Art that shows us the beauty of everydayness past helps us to better appreciate everydayness present, a harder-than-ever appreciation in our world of infinite distraction and disposal.
Though technology lures us with various “conquer time!” temptations, we ought to resist them and go the way of Auden and Linklater and the many others who beckon us to slow down and embrace our sand-through-an-hourglass lot. Life is a perpetual sunset, a fact that inspires us to strive and fight and lament and love. Everything passes. What will remain?