That was fun, or something like it. A boy-version of Thelma and Louise, but with HIV and actual (as opposed to implied) sex. This was the third movie I’ve seen directed by Gregg Araki and it feels like a link between the other two, The Doom Generation and Mysterious Skin. I saw the later first and when I saw the former I could hardly believe they were spearheaded (not just directed, but produced, filmed and written/adapted) by the same person. Mysterious Skin is tender, ethereal and heartbreaking; The Doom Generation over-the-top, in-your-face and decadently raw. This one though, it’s got elements of both. The camp, apocalyptic nihilism of The Doom Generation and the ruined, desecrated beauty of Mysterious Skin. Part of the that beauty, though not nearly all of it, is in the two leads, who’re almost too picture-perfect at times. It’s easy enough to see that Araki started off making porn, even though this movie’s actually fairly cautious, despite all its jagged edges, about actually showing skin. What it does show glows; at times the sex scenes seem like they’re part of a different film altogether. They don’t seem to belong in the story of a love triangle between a film critic who learns early on that he’s HIV positive, a mad drifter first seen spray-painting “fuck the world” across a parking lot and who is positve as well, and a gun; or, if you prefer, between a lost boy, a mad man, and death. It’s not exactly subtle, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
It felt strange to me, watching this movie from nearly 20 years after-the-fact (it came out in 1993). In some ways the world it inhabits is utterly foreign, in the way it always is in old movies (who was it who said the past is a different country?). The markings of culture are all so topical and transient: the bands, the fashion, the conspiracy theories, the chest hair. Chest hair, and on a gay guy! When was the last time you saw that onscreen? Yet in some ways this particular past-world is distinct, a bizarre and unlikely time, unique in its contours, limits and boundaries: it was after the discovery of HIV and the invention of the first antibody tests but before any treatment existed. A time when deciding whether to get tested was a more complex, multi-faceted and personal choice, and coming up positive meant existing in a kind of limbo, not knowing if death was just around the next corner or years away. That kind of uncertainty could (and will) drive a person to the edge of madness, and that’s where this film takes place. That edge undergirds the entire story in the form of sheer energy, a ragged rage and raw fury that pulses and throbs with increasing urgency beneath every scene. It starts when the film critic’s doctor tells him he’s tested positive, and his best medical advice is basically “good luck,” and it builds from there until the film climaxes in what might be the most epic threesome in cinematic history.
It’s hard to put a word like “good” or “bad” to a movie like this. Honestly it seems beside the point, and almost insulting besides to try and fit it into that kind of paradigm. It’s a movie to see more than once, to dwell on, and to let stew in the back of your mind and the pit of your stomach. It’s dense and tightly-packed as a seed in early spring, near-bursting with life, and I think its worth it to plant it in your gut and see what grows. Or explodes.