Clark's bleak view of 'Kids'

By Noah Lopez

Arizona Daily Wildcat

"Kids" is a harrowing examination of today's urban youth, exploring their ties to drugs and sex without levying any sort of judgement against its subjects, leaving itself with an ultimately hollow center.

While the film has much to support the controversy that has surrounded the film and it's MPAA extolled NC-17 rating, the viewer is often left wondering if it is truly worthy of such hype. Many of the film's more uncomfortable moments could well have been left on the editing room floor from the film's opening scene, an extended makeout session that introduces the film's antihero, teenage "Virgin Surgeon" Telly, the viewer is bombarded with scenes that are awkwardly lengthy in an attempt to shock and sentionalize the film's characters and their actions.

The film takes on the increasingly unoriginal "all in a day's work" timeline that has become prevalent in independent cinema in the past decade (see Richard Linklater, Spike Lee and others), charting the actions of three central youths as they cavort through the city leaving their destruction in its wake. After Telly's morning deflowering chores are finished, the camera follows, in excellent cinema verite fashion, the two antagonists as they wind their way through New York to their friends' hangout, publicly urinating, bragging about their sexual exploits, and stealing booze as they go.

While Clark offers countless visuals to document the rampant drug consumption of the youths and their friends, his intent never seems to rise above exploitation. Every sequence, be it a depiction of drugs or sexual activity, comes home to the same base image to pound Clark's point home one of the film's younger kids engaging in the same pursuits as their older brethren. Clark's message seems to be that of "Wow! Even today's 10-year-olds smoke dope!"

More disturbing than the film's empty messaging, is Clark's lingering shots of his 15-year-olds making out or having sex. While his setups are great, creating amazing paralells between Telly's morning and evening conquests and the gut-wrenching violation of trust that takes place, Clark simply doesn't seem to know when to cut away. He ends up forcing even his most hardy viewers into a zone of uncomfortability, not because the scenes of teenagers slipping each other tongue, brutally beating people up, or smoking dope are difficult, but because those shots eat up so much screen time.

This over-attentiveness never crosses over into other areas however, and the viewer is left with no resolution to two of the film's chief conflicts ... Telly's HIV status, and Casper's date rape scene at the end of the film. After an agonizing journey searching for Telly to let him know of his condition, Jenny does nothing when she actually finds him, in the midst of another sexual encounter. Jenny's resigned sigh before she slumps to the floor in exhaustion typifies Clark's ambivalence towards the situation.

The sensationalism aside, "Kids" is probably the most accurate depiction of American teenage life that has been presented in some time. The screenplay, written by a then 19-year-old Harmony Korine, is alive with slang and exact dialogue, and Clark's composition is true to the most minute detail ... there wasn't a single scene that didn't trigger some sort of recall of my own high school memories, be it the dialogue surrounding a group nitrous oxide partaking, or the way Clark's final "party" ends up with the kids falling asleep on the floor in various states of near embrace. It's with this element of Clark's presentation where the film really begins to soar and become something else. Clark's sharp eye has relegated all other movies about teens (from "The Breakfast Club" to "Clueless") to their proper dimension of superficiality. His actors, while attractive, resonate with reality, becoming more than "Teen Beat" pin-ups, and delivering strong, multi-dimensional performances.

In a painfully bad year for film, especially on the independent level, "Kids" is an important, if flawed, film. It's hard to imagine that something as visually powerful will be commited to the screen this year, and it's equally difficult to imagine today's youth being captured more legitimately. Above all, "Kids" is a must-see film.

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