Kids (1995)

Kids is probably the hardest-to-review film of the year. It's hard because Kids aspires to a lot by exploring the lives of some New York kids who are especially repellent. You can't like them. You can barely sympathize with them. And the film holds nothing back.

It's easy to say that that is the whole point of the film, but I think it's almost too easy. In this explanation, the makers of Kids, Larry Clark, a photographer turned director, and Harmony Korine, the screenwriter who wrote the film while not yet out of high school, are showing us this film simply to show us that our society is creating these people who have no moral center, no concept of the future, no reason to act like anything other than the animals they treat others as.

When describing the film to people who haven't seen it, I call it an absolute trip to hell. And I think that's accurate. I have also been saying that I would never want to see it again, since it was so jarring and repulsive. But lately I have begun to reconsider the part about never seeing it again. I have realized that these kids are not just characters in a cheap, documentary-style morality tale, but they get under your skin after a time.

Telly, played by Leo Fitzpatrick, who also contributed to the storyline, is an unforgivably horrible kid, no one you'd want to know, but after seeing the film, you feel you do know him. It's unpleasant that you could get to know someone like that so well. It's fun escapism when it's Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter or Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. But when Clark and Fitzpatrick show you the inner workings of Telly, you can't just stop shuddering when you step out of the theater and go have ice cream (or, like, Kool Aid). It's not a fun, icy scare, but a deep, chest-centered, emotional reaction.

Justin Pierce as Casper, Telly's friend, is a lost kid. He seems to have the feeling that he's missing the party, and we want to tell him that this is just the best party to miss that there ever will be, but in the end, there's no other direction for him to go. I mean, there is, of course. Anyone could tell you what it is. But there are absolutely no signifiers in Casper's life that would give him the hint. He probably wouldn't take it anyway. So why is he the most likable character in the film (besides the little kid who loves Jesus Christ)? There's no answer. You can run the movie over and over in your head and find every reason to hate the boy. But finally, you smile when remembering him. What does that say?

Jennie is the third unforgettable character. She seems to be the only one who has a conscience, a hope. Chloe Sevigny plays Jennie almost as a victim of that hope. It victimizes her, then leaves her. The only character who dared to look beyond her surroundings is the first to feel the consequences. But Jennie is not an innocent victim. No one in this film is.

Maybe that's what makes it so hard to shake. As audiences, we are used to having a hero or an anti-hero to do battle with the forces of evil. This film is ambivalent, realistic, truthful about characters who have not had the luck to be written for such a facile, clear-cut film.

Finally, a word about the idea that the film is cheap exploitation of children. I can't agree with this, but I can certainly understand where that sentiment comes from. There's nothing in this film that young kids should see. Get it?!

Links for Kids

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review


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