Friday, May 15, 2009

The Living End (1992)

The Living End is a brutal film. Conventional audiences will find it nearly unwatchable because of its paper-thin plot, agonizingly static characters, and ludicrous dialogue, not to mention its penchant for eroticized violence and painful gay sex. But The Living End wasn't made for conventional audiences; director Gregg Araki seems more focused on using his film to broadcast a deafening "fuck you" to puritanical America, the Hollywood establishment, and anyone else who can hear his scream of rage.

Much of the film's anger derives from the AIDS activist culture that was boiling over when The Living End first emerged in 1992. The story follows Jon, an unassuming movie critic struggling to find meaning after being diagnosed with HIV. A chance meeting introduces him to Luke, a hard-drinking, HIV-positive pretty boy who finds himself on the run after murdering a cadre of gay bashers. The two escape on a road trip, deciding that the death sentence imposed by their HIV status gives them ample justification to do anything and everything they want. An orgy of sex, violence, and really awesome industrial music ensues.

The film ultimately serves to create a dark fantasy escape from the cruel apathy that greeted the AIDS epidemic. Jon personifies the effete HIV-positive gay man who finds himself marginalized and wished out of existence by the world around him. He fulfills his desires through Luke, a beautiful stranger who ignores all the rules, murders the homophobes who attack him, and provides an easy escape from an imperfect world. Together, the two transgress the barriers of the society that has rejected them and craft new lives for themselves beyond the boundaries of their mundane world.

The Living End continues on its rage bender for as long as it can manage, but like all joy rides, it must eventually come crashing back to reality. The characters burn out and rail against each other and their environment, but the film seems eager to cast aside these tender moments and delve back into chaos. Even with these flashes of lucidity, the film remains raw, deviant, and often without any overriding sense of direction or clarity.

But is it worth it? Maybe, but it sure leaves one hell of a hangover.

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