Archive for New Queer Cinema

The Living End: An Irresponsible Film

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 27, 2009 by babydylan

Imagine: It’s 1992, you are a gay man living in George Bush Sr.’s America, you’re a mildly successful film critic with a place of your own and a best friend who knows you better than you do yourself. And you have just found out you are HIV-positive. Do you sit back and let the sickness take you slowly as you struggle to keep up with normality, or do you give the world a giant ‘fuck you’ and live like you’re trying to die, not like you are dying?

Gregg Araki’s 1992 film The Living End aims to explore this in a fable that comes with a tell-tale warning before the opening credits: ‘An irresponsible film by Gregg Araki’. The then 31 year old was angry, full of ideas and the burning need to express both.

Director Gregg Araki

Arriving in the middle of the New Queer Cinema movement The Living End is without a doubt my favourite film of the then-fresh genre. Films such as Paris Is Burning (1990), Parting Glances (1986), Todd Haynes’ confronting Poison (1991) and subsequent Velvet Goldmine (1998) and Safe (1995), Bruce LaBruce’s No Skin Off My Ass (1991) along with Gus van Sant’s My Private Idaho (1991) were all made at relatively the same time which prompted film critic B. Ruby Rich to coin the phrase ‘New Queer Cinema’. She was able to draw attention to a group of filmmakers who were finally finding their voice to share their stories, uncensored, raw and downright in-your-face. And in my opinion, no one says it better, more beautifully or as memorably as Gregg Araki and his films Totally Fucked Up (1993), The Doom Generation (1995), Nowhere (1997), Mysterious Skin (2005) and of course my favourite, The Living End.

Sometimes called ‘the gay Thelma & Lousie’, the story centres around two gay men, both HIV-positive and approaching their sickness in completely different ways. Male hustler and a regular Adonis Luke is a drifter, if he ever had a hometown he forgot it, if he once had a trade he doesn’t remember, he has no purpose other than to keep moving, keep fighting, finding moments of bliss with different strangers the only constant is the promise to himself that he will end his life before he starts to wither from the disease. Jon meanwhile, has his planned and stable life thrown off course in a time when AIDS and HIV was a death sentence for all infected. Attracted to Luke’s carefree attitude and physical presence, the two set out on a road trip across America and begin a tumultuous, passionate and often violent relationship trying to grapple with their approaching deaths as best they can.

Luke and Jon fight for the best ways to live or to die

Made on a shoestring budget of $20,000 Araki captures the desperation and the helpless feelings HIV-positive men were struggling with at the time. A generation who felt they were paying the price for the freedom those before them fought for. Lengthy shots with wonderfully simplistic camera angles make for an elegant frame and create a stark contrast to the intimate scenes between Luke and Jon, their conversations as heated as their love-making. The soundtrack consisting of post-punk and shoegazing tunes reflects the doomed and desperate leads as Ian Curtis and The Jesus and Mary Chain forebode the future.

The final scenes are heart-breakingly desperate as both men resign themselves to inevitability, yet when the time comes for both to make the final decision, to continue to fight or to die in their youth, neither can fulfill their wishes. The film ends tenderly but without hope as both huddle in limbo, ultimately doomed with little chance of redemption.

If you are to see one film from this poignant and revealing genre, The Living End is the film to see. Reflecting the time and the attitude while creating real characters whose lives spiral out of their control, Araki is the master of making you feel and realising you really have so much to be thankful for.

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