I want to explore the different types of transactions that take place in Linklater’s “Slacker,” and what sorts of meaning these transactions create for the characters and the city that they live in. In Slacker, the cast of characters is resistant towards traditional, capitalist (or at least corporate) transactions. They create their own sets of transactions to get goods and services. These goods and services can be simple, like giving someone some spare change, or they can be more complex and less defined and more relational, such as someone to bounce your conspiracy theories off of, friendship, or someone to perform a ritual with. To examine alternative, resistant types of transactions in Slacker, I’ll go through the film and pick a few moments that embody each to look a little closer at.
The first type of transaction I want to look at is what I will call an “object to person” transaction. This film is ripe with this sort of transaction, where one character will give another character an object, literally pass the object from their hands to the hands of another person. In this film, this mostly happens through charitable exchange, meaning the receiving character give the giving character nothing in return. I want to look specifically at the scene where two characters are planning on going to a movie together. The man gives the woman a coke, and the woman gives a panhandler change.
This is an interesting scene, because these two exchanges happen in pretty rapid fire succession, the man giving the woman the coke and the woman giving the beggar some change. He also criticizes the woman for giving the man change even though they are both participating in a very similar act. The man argues that since suffering will never be alleviated, there’s no use in saying that it’s wrong and trying to fix it. We can look at these exchanges as resistant to capitalism in sense because they are both unidirectional- one character giving another character something with nothing in return.
Another transaction I want to focus on is the trade off from person to person. In this film, one character seamlessly switches over into the life of the next. This is the unifying piece of the movie, that each scene ties into the last by the presence of at least one character, one or more of the characters leave at this point to make space for a new character.
For example, we get more rapid-fire transactions between people that lead to a sort of “switch off” where that character was the focal point of the camera, they interact with another person, then that person becomes the focal point. Near the beginning of the film, we have a man lighting candles in his room, then being arrested. A man with a guitar witnesses the arrest, and he becomes the focal point. The man is playing music, a woman give him money, then she becomes the focal point. The woman orders a drink from a barista, he becomes the focal point. The barista gives a drink to a man, the man goes to a table, then the man with the drink and his table of friends becomes the focal point.
These small interactions lead to a switch in who is the lead in the story, who is centered in the narrative. This is a resistant transaction in a few ways. First, by constantly seamlessly switching who is centered in the narrative and never looping back to main characters in the way other vignette movies do, the film itself is resisting traditional movie storytelling. This resistance mimics the capitalistic resistance of the inhabitants of the film by not falling into the traditional structures of hollywood storytelling. It is also resistant because it is a completely human transaction. While this exchange sometimes is centered around the transfer of goods, it is referring specifically to the action of the switch off, and the switch off isn’t mediated by goods at all. It’s an interaction between two people. Lastly, it’s resistant because of it’s sometimes rapidfire nature. By cramming so many people who are often tenuously connected into the same time and space, human connection is centered and privileged as a sort of capital in this movie.