The two cows take a road trip to discuss how a decade of bored contentment in America gave rise to both the Gen-X slacker and prank culture, laying the seeds for a generational conflict that takes center stage in this highly re-watchable 2001 John Dahl thriller.
Oh to be young and in college, destined for a life of contented mediocrity, financially and socially secure enough not to take anything too seriously. A period of American complacency (coming after the end of the Cold War and before 9/11), it’s not surprising that the nineties birthed both prank culture (think: Jackass, Tom Green, Punk’d) and alt-comedy, with its meta-ironic detachment from everything. To the boomer generation who either fought in, or against, the Vietnam War, these Gen-X slackers must have looked like nihilistic spoiled brats.
It’s thus fitting that in a movie where two impish Gen-Xers humiliate a middle-aged truck driver, it’s with the weight of an entire generation that he enacts his revenge, in the form of a tractor-trailer possessed by the disembodied voice of Ted fucking Levine (Buffalo Bill himself, uncredited). My sense is that these themes of generational conflict are the result of the inner struggle of the film’s author, JJ Abrams, probably the Gen-Xer most in love with that ultimate boomer director, Steven Spielberg, as he grapples with finding new storytelling paths in the shadow of his idol. Homages to Spielberg are littered throughout (the very premise of the movie a nod to Duel, a man loses his Jaw, a corn field chase right out of ET), perhaps the subconscious reflections of Abrams’ creative struggles. // Blobcat