Blunt, ugly Kids leaves viewers shocked, sickened
Directed by Larry Clark.
Starring Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny.
By Teresa Esser
Kids is a blunt, ugly horror film whose most frightening feature is that it is entirely believable. A 1995 version of an ancient Greek tragedy, Kids leaves its viewers shocked and sickened but overall thankful that it was filtered through the lens of a camera. The characters are at once innocent and evil and above all a product of our culture. Kids tackles sex and violence, but without any of the glitz or glamour one normally expects from a feature film.
The basic problem is that it has gone to great lengths to eliminate the distance between the viewer and the story. The film is not about Hollywood, or even Beverly Hills 90210; instead it is about unspectacular New York City youths who show less than marginal respect for their parents and want nothing more than to be left to wander the streets and hang out with their friends.
The film begins with Telly, the male lead, nearly naked and locked in the embraces of a nameless, faceless, post-pubescent female virgin. "I don't want to have sex," she says, "because I'm not ready to have a baby."
Telly, ever the problem-solver, counters with: "What if you didn't have to worry about that shit?" The problem solved, the two "kids" proceed to have sex without using a condom. Viewers wince as the girl's hymen breaks and she cries out, but Telly ignores her whimpering and continues to thrust. When he has had his orgasm he throws his clothes on and skips out of the house, all too eager to brag to his waiting buddy about his latest conquest. One problem:Telly has AIDS.
Events in Kids do not take place behind screens or under blankets; rather, the camera is placed so close to the actors that it literally invades their personal space. And the viewer winds up squirming in his or her own chair, unwilling to watch the evils perpetrated against innocents, yet driven to watch in the blind hope that somehow the horror will be mitigated. It doesn't, though. After the first scene it only gets worse.
The disturbing events covered in Kids are too numerous to be detailed in a Tech review, and the full impact of seeing these things on the big screen cannot be fully conveyed through the medium of ink on paper. There are two incidences of theft, three of rape, and one near-fatal beating. Still, through it all, the characters are just kids. No one points any fingers and no one gets taken to court. Nothing even seems out of the ordinary.
Ironically, the only stable character in Kids is a New York City taxi driver who amuses himself by making idle conversation with his HIV-positive passenger, Jennie. "What's wrong?" he asks. "I hope you don't mind me asking, it's just that your face looks sad. I mean, it's a pretty face and I like to look at it, it just looks sad. Won't you tell me what's wrong?"
"Everything," Jennie replies. Jenny is right, and the audience can understand her plight. Still, the cab driver does his best to make things better.
"It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining. You just gotta forget about the bad things," he says. "My grandmother told me to just forget and try to be happy. And look at me. I'm happy." The cab driver's smile reflects in the rear-view mirror.
The irony is that the old immigrant cab driver is, in fact, probably much better off than any of the other characters in the film. Kids has gone to great lengths to deconstruct the myths of our culture: that youth equals innocence, that sex is good, and that cab drivers should not be taken seriously. The amazing thing about the film is that these messages are conveyed without being preachy. Instead, Kids allows its viewers to make his or her own judgements.
Unlike the film Boyz in the Hood, whose video version is used to advertise the United Negro College Fund, Kids comes across as an entirely independent drama/documentary about life in New York City. There are no parental organizations shepherding viewers through the film; instead, the viewer is left on his or her own to ameliorate or ignore the very real problems it brings up.
Kids should be required viewing for adolescents at junior high schools and parents at PTA meetings across the country. It does an excellent job at scaring viewers into contemplating their own life choices and re-evaluating their own unsafe practices. Sadly, the parents of the characters in Kids probably believed that their children were being sheltered.