One thing that really stands out in Kids is the social isolation between the teenagers and the adults. In fact, it seems as though the two live in completely seperate worlds, and that the kids are, on the whole, just left to pretty much fend for themselves. This distinction is blatantly obvious throughout the film but only occurred to me several days afterward. Of those adults that do feature, there seems little or no compulsion on their part to keep an eye on what their kids are doing, where they're going, who they are with or just how 'off the rails' their lives might be going.
This is also a film in which peer pressure, along with the vulnerability of youth, combine to form a potent mix of gangs, drugs, mindless violence, alcohol abuse, skateboarding and rampant sex. In fact, the films two male 'anti-hero's', Casper and Telly, throw up no end of questions over the 90's generation and just how much freedom they had and how little discipline. Certainly, the film throws up a surprisingly profuse number of questions and we are left to make up our own minds - although it seems obvious that social and moral decay underpins this drama. And perhaps the most disarming part is just how unlikeable most of these kids are.
The film stars Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don't Cry, American Psycho), as a likeable but too easily swayed girl who's life takes a turn for the worst quite early on the film. I think Kids was her first film and, on the strength of her performance here, its no wonder she went on to carve out a niche for herself in Hollywood.
Another theme of this film is HIV, and when it becomes apparent that that awful disease looms large over the lives of two of the characters, then we are drawn in to the pace and momentum of the film. Suddenly, what looked like youthful sexual shenanigans takes on a much darker, more predatory tone and we are asked to question our attitudes to teenage sexuality and the inherent risks in the time of HIV. Unfortunately, the shockingly inevitable bombshell never comes, and the movie ends ambiguously, leaving the viewer with more questions than answers.
There is a rape scene that has also caused controversy. We see the rape in all its awful detail, and the camera lingers on the scene. The rape is more shocking than the controversial rape in Straw Dogs but is less gruelling than the horrifying rape scene in Irreversible. In my opinion, films ought to strive to be an accurate reflection of human society, and any denial or censorship of some of the horrors our fellow humans are capable of is a failing in our attempt to understand ourselves and why some people do what they do. Certainly, the reaction says more about the viewer than about the scene itself.
Another thing that works about Kids is the camera work. We are almost following the kids about the city. With much shaky handheld shots and wandering along with the kids as they chatter and waffle, it almost feels as though we are accomplices or members of their gang. This is where the film really succeeds - capturing the group dynamic and the sociological/behavioural side of these teenagers lives.
Kids is one of those films that splits the review community in two - half love it, the other half hate it. I am really not sure where I sit on this. This is certainly not a classic by any means but, Kids works on a number of levels. Having said that, some of the accusations made against the film are that it is exploitative and there may be something in that. But I am not convinced enough by this argument. I think that, with any film that deals with controversial and difficult subjects, there will always be some for whom it will touch a raw nerve. All in all, I liked the film, mostly because it made me ask questions about Western society and the way we are raising the youth. It made me look at my own youth and ask how that compared with the one I was seeing depicted on screen, albeit a decade on.
Kids is a film about the loss of innocence, (and in one shocking scene we see a group of younger kids around the age of 12 already mimicking their older brothers behaviour), and the moral torpidity engendered by a society that has no time for its offspring. It throws up a lot of questions and for that, is very successful (and timely). By holding a mirror up to our moral decay it reflects back the ugliness in our faces. For this, I think, it should be applauded. Depressing as hell? Yes, but constructive in the way it deals with the social and moral issues of the modern world.
I am somewhat divided about Kids. To be described as a 90's Rebel Without a Cause is just a travesty - it is not as good as that. But what Kids is is an important, relevant, timely film that deserves attention, however unsettled it leaves us.
For the issues raised, I give
For the film as a whole, I give