REVIEW – Nowhere (1997)

NowhereFilmJuice have my review of Gregg Araki’s psychotronic teen soap opera Nowhere.

Final installment of Araki’s wonderful Teenage Apocalypse series (along with Totally Fucked Up and The Doom Generation), Nowhere follows a group of American teenagers as they work to find themselves in a swamp of sex and drugs. Melancholy and often seen as more reactionary than the earlier films in the series, Nowhere focuses less on the joys of transgressive sex and drug-taking than on the psychological consequences of immersing yourself in one particular culture. The film’s main protagonist is dating a beautiful girl who turns out to be naturally bi but while the main protagonist is also naturally bi, he struggles with the idea that he must share his girlfriend with a woman. In fact, the thought so bothers him that he ends the film by fleeing his transgressive subculture in pursuit of a far more traditional and romantic belief that there is one person out there who will suit his needs perfectly.

While you could, if you were that way inclined, read this narrative as an indictment of youth culture and an Assayas-style mutterings about everyone needing to grow up and settle down, I think a more interesting approach is to view the film as a 90s equivalent to that speech in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Hunter S. Thompson remembers the end of the 60s. The one that ends with:

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Gregg Araki’s Nowhere is not about the wave rolling back but about that moment when the wave slows and you think maybe it’s not going to make it all the way up the beach after all. Maybe it’s going to stop. Maybe it was never going to make it after all.

Imbued with a touch more humanity than many of his peers, Dark begins to notice strange things happening on the edges of his culture; alien lizards are disintegrating vacuous teens while a televangelist makes big promises on late-night TV. Filled with dread and alienated from the air of fashionably empty transgression surrounding him, Dark abandons the values of his peers in favour of a traditional fantasy of finding one person with whom he can spend the rest of his life. Aware that something is slipping away from him, Dark makes an uncharacteristically articulate speech about reaching the end of an era as his lover explodes leaving only an alien insect that promptly climbs out the window taking all youthful weirdness with it.

REVIEW – The Doom Generation (1995)

FilmJuice have my review of Gregg Araki’s fifth film, the surreal and nihilistic teenage road movie The Doom Generation.

Revisiting this film was an interesting experience for me as I can remember both seeing it and reacting to it as a part of the vogue for nihilistic films that gripped 1990s American cinema. The set up is as simple as it is classic: A pair of fucked-up teenagers take to the road after accidentally killing a convenience store clerk. Moving from town to town, they rub up against the weirder elements of the American condition and try to come to terms with their place in the grand scheme of things. Each character voices a different attitude towards the sense of disillusionment and alienation that all generations feel upon coming of age. Indeed, this is a film that is as much a response to films like Easy Rider and Badlands as it is to True Romance and Natural Born Killers:

According to postmodern nihilism, nothing matters other than the mundane details of our lives. As might be expected from a broad cultural pattern, American film engaged with the idea of postmodern nihilism in a number of different ways. For example, at one end of the spectrum Quentin Tarantino’s patented blend of operatic violence and trivial chitchat spawned films such as Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994) and Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993) in which nothing seemed to matter other than love. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Larry Clark’s Kids (1995) reversed the polarity and argued that Generation X actively avoided answering the bigger questions by filling their heads with talk of relationships and old TV shows. Trapped between the romanticism of Tarantino and the outrage of Clark lies Greg Araki’s The Doom Generation a film about costs and benefits of cynical detachment.

All things considered, I think that The Doom Generation is perhaps a little bit too ‘meta’ to be anything more than an interesting rejoinder to a more worthwhile set of films, but then perhaps that was always the point of the exercise? What better way to lend voice to the angst of Generation X than to suggest that everything has been said and that all we can ever hope for is just enough sex and violence to pass the time?