Friday, February 8, 2008

reVIEW (36)

The following was originally published on November 4, 1996, as one half of “Apocalypses,” a look at pieces of popular culture as the turn of the millennium approached. So this review will be properly received in the context in which it was presented, I opted to run the introduction to “Apocalypses” first, before getting to the review proper.
So, without any further ado…

We’re at the tail end of 1996, and there are about 38 months left in this millennium.* These are the end times, the final days, when culture and society become gripped with the fear of the unknown being right around the next corner.
Anyone can see that these are dark and turbulent times, the chaotic undertows of countercultures and splinter religions coursing through the already overflowing tributaries of the global village.
Technology is on the fast lane on the autobahn of progress, taking white-hot leaps forward in a stutter-skip flurry towards some as yet unseen destination. Industry rampages on, crime rates rise. According to WHO, the current worldwide estimate of 14 million AIDS-afflicted people could rise to as much as 40 million by the year 2000.
Dark and turbulent times, indeed.
And, as works of art are wont to mirror the times in which they were created, then it is safe to say that they are as much a valid mirror in which to view the events shaping the world, as the events themselves.

Thus, I have decided to share the millennium fever with you, children, through a close look at Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation, a film informed by the impending change promised by a new era, and the effects of the expectancy of that change on mankind.
To dispel any misconceptions though, this isn’t part of a doom-and-gloom countdown to Armageddon 2000. This is just an interesting way to spend the remaining days of the second millennium, glimpsing the world through the eyes of one of its visionaries, sharing in the glory and the squalor of the sights he sees.
We are among the privileged few, to have the honour of bearing witness to the end of one millennium and the birth of a new one. These are days we should never forget.
And for those of you who’d rather bury your heads in the sand, think on this—no matter how many Disney feel-good movies you see, the big 2K will arrive. And whatever may happen when we turn that pivotal corner, one thing is certain: there will be changes.
These are the final days, children.
Enjoy them while you still can.

“The world sucks.”
-- Amy

The Doom Generation opens with strobic, staccato shots of clubbing kids, with Trent Reznor roaring out “Heresy” (“If there is a Hell, I’ll see you there…”) over the audio track.
Thus begins this bizarre road movie by way of David Lynch, and quite possibly, George Romero. And if that description isn’t enough to grab you, it’s also got a biting soundtrack to kill for.
As Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech), Jordan White (James Duval), and Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) move from one motel to another, from one convenience store to the next, from one mistaken identity to another, they are accompanied by the slamming sounds of the likes of Front 242, Belly, The Verve, The Cocteau Twins, Lush, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Bigod 20, Medicine, God Lives Underwater, Pizzicato Five, Slowdive, Aphex Twin, Love and Rockets, Meat Beat Manifesto, and MC 900 Ft. Jesus. (All of Skinny Puppy even appear as the group of goons beating up on Xavier during the first few minutes of the film.)
This party is definitely happening.

A wicked study of today’s American youth and their place (or lack thereof) in these end times, writer/director Gregg Araki exposes the inevitably pointless existence of the trio—and by extension, America’s youth—by making them travel through a whacked-out panorama of surreal situations and characters. (According to the end credits, the film was “photographed on location in Hell.”)
The world of The Doom Generation is one where there are Headless Horseman Motels and fast food joints called Carnoburger, where getting stuck in traffic is likened to being “a gerbil smothering in Richard Gere’s butthole” and sex is “kinda like eating spaghetti.”
It is a world of the absurd and the ultraviolent, where swords get stuck in people’s crotches and characters beat their meat and do funky things with their jism.
Sounds a lot like the real world, doesn’t it? And in a certain sense, it is.
Filtered through the eye of Araki though, it becomes something far more than that. It becomes a gonzo hyperreality of cartoon violence (one-upping both Natural Born Killers and the news report in From Dusk Till Dawn) and incessant sex.
As the film’s tagline goes, “Sex. Violence. Whatever.”
Truer words were never spoken.

Though the journey Araki takes us on is, ultimately, a grim one, there are still plenty of laughs along the way.
There are all the doomsayer slogans that we see, from THE RAPTURE IS COMING to PREPARE FOR THE APOCALYPSE, that, considering the trio’s situation, become the sharpest of visual barbs.
Then there’s the running Number of the Beast gag, delivered by such familiar faces as Dustin Nguyen (with the unlikely name of Win Cock Suk), Perry Farrell (of Jane’s Addiction and Porno For Pyros), and infamous Hollywood madame, Heidi Fleiss.
Clearly, there are laughs in this film—for those with the sense of humour to hack it.

“Scooter was so sad all the time. Me and him used to sit in my room getting stoned listening to The Smiths. Like he was over, the night before he killed himself. Right in the middle of “Unloveable,” he just started crying like crazy.
“He was really into The Smiths.”
-- Jordan

Repeatedly, we are reminded that the three principals of the film are directionless, lost and constantly in search of their proper place in the scheme of things.
And in Amy’s case, her predicament can at least be partially blamed on her upbringing, her mother being both an addict and a Scientologist, while her father, before he died, would try in vain to molest her.
Here is a picture of the youth who don’t see any point in all that existentialist crap because, for them, existence is a whole load of steaming excrement in the first place.
When asked if they ever wondered why they exist, Xavier replies, “No. What for?” while Amy answers breathlessly, “I’m supposed to come, can we talk about this later?”

There is one telling scene in the film, indicating just how far we’ve come down the road as a species, of just how desensitized we’ve become.
It involves an animal, and you’ll know it when you see it.
After inadvertently causing the deaths of six human beings, the three principals are suddenly overcome by grief over the fate of a so-called “lower life form,” and what Araki could be saying here is, no one is truly innocent anymore, save perhaps for those lower life forms, which have no sense of sin.

“’I love you’ can mean a lot of things. Like ‘You’ll do till someone better comes along.’ Or ‘I can’t describe how I really feel but I know I’m supposed to say this.’ Or ‘Shut up. I’m watching TV.’”
-- Jordan

Aside from all that, The Doom Generation is also about relationships, and how mutable they can be in this day and age. This facet of the film is helped along tremendously by the three main performers, who quite ably fill the shoes of their respective roles.
Duval’s Jordan makes a perfect parody of Keanu Reeves, and surprisingly, comes across as the most sensible and loving—the most human—of the three principals.
Schaech’s Xavier, the mysterious stranger who falls into the lives of Amy and Jordan, is brilliant as the source of tension. Exuding an interesting air of bisexuality, Schaech goes a long way in keeping the character exchanges interesting.
Finally, McGowan’s Amy (a.k.a. Sunshine, Kitten, and Bambi) does a commendable job of playing the in-betweener, professing to love Jordan and yet tantalized by Xavier, despite her vocal protestations.

“I saw it on TV, so it’s gotta be true.”
-- Xavier

All wrapped up and ready for take-out, The Doom Generation is a rollicking ride through a Hell that looks uncomfortably too similar to the world we all call home.
Quite possibly just as caustic a portrayal of American youth as Kids, The Doom Generation is partially clothed in the cerements of black humour and absurdist storytelling, making it, arguably, a more entertaining film, something you’d possibly look forward to watching again (unlike the hard-hitting quasi-doc style adopted by Kids, which makes one flinch and squirm as the scenes flicker across the screen).
But don’t let my use of the word “entertaining” fool you. There are still some jarring sequences in The Doom Generation, among them, one which juxtaposes two traditionally revered ideas (country and religion) with violent sex; the latter juxtaposition upping the ante started by William Friedkin way back in The Exorcist.

And following in the grand tradition of the non-sequitur final line (done so well by Soderbergh in sex, lies and videotape), we have the final line of dialogue uttered by Xavier, that, in light of the scene preceding it, becomes laughable and horribly absurd.
Just like a lot of the phenomenon we call “life.”

So if this sounds like it’s up your alley, hunt that DVD down. Preferably the unrated version.
And if they don’t have it in stock, well, like Amy said, “The world sucks.” Take a number, pal.

* I know very well, of course, that technically, the end of the second millennium is the year 2000, the turn of the millennium occurring on December 31, 2000.
But everyone got hung up on that 1999-2000 turnover, I didn’t want to disappoint them…

(The Doom Generation OS courtesy of; DVD cover art for various editions courtesy of and

(The above is a slightly altered portion of “Apocalypses,” originally published in November, 1996. Much love and thanx to Karen, for letting the little bugger play in her sandbox.)

No comments: