Kids (1995) [5/5]

A controversial portrayal of teens in New York City which exposes a deeply disturbing world of sex and substance abuse. The film focuses on a sexually reckless, freckle-faced boy named Telly, whose goal is to have sex with as many different girls as he can. When Jenny, a girl who has had sex only once, tests positive for HIV, she knows she contracted the disease from Telly. When Jenny discovers that Telly's idea of "safe sex" is to only have sex with virgins, and is continuing to pass the disease onto other unsuspecting girls, Jenny makes it her business to try to stop him.

Larry Clark's Kids is exploitative, certainly, but it exists in the realm of effective exploitation: exploitation for the sake of exposure, e.g. exposing an underrepresent segment of culture (especially back in 1995) to a world in which said culture was not previously explored, to much extent, at least in American media. There are so many young people dying every day from overdoses/substance abuse -- I've lost numerous close friends to opiate overdoses -- and while I hear the common complaint that this subject matter is too often explored within the independent film world (especially now, in 2016), I still believe that it's still quite underrepresented, at least in terms of the true-to-life nature of those thrown into the universe of chemical dependence and then lost, falling pale and breathless far too soon, due to their ever-expanding addictions. There may be a great number of films which portray drug use/abuse, but few do it with the unfortunate and uncomfortable genuinity that we see here in Kids and, for another recent example, Heaven Knows What (though chemical dependence is, of course, not even close to the only psychological disorder or societal issue examined in Kids). I almost want to make the argument that in order to really find something of extraordinary value in Kids, you have to have grown up in a certain pessimistic, narcissistic, lotus eating environment, surrounded by individuals who care less about the fears and concerns of their loved ones than they do about satisfying the craving for their next hit, but I'm not going to make that argument. I think that, having spent my adolescence around self-centered teenagers who wasted away their high school years torturing their parents and friends with drug-fueled misadventures probably contributes to the reason why this film hits so close to home for me, personally, but I know many people that haven't been through what I've been through and still have a strong admiration for the film, most likely due to their fascination with a section of culture to which they were never exposed (and thus the curiosity is understandable). The cinéma vérité/documentary-esque shooting style, the lack of psychological investigation (how can you -- the parent or friend of the troubled teen -- comprehend the irrationality of such a lifestyle, unless you've lived it?) and the absence of a distinctive narrative progression only add to the haunting realism of Clark's directorial debut; paired with Harmony Korine's commentative screenplay, I can't praise its alarming authenticity enough. 

-Eli Hayes