The Doom Generation
by Jon Bastian
It’s three for the road in Gregg Araki’s “heterosexual” potboiler.
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There’s something about Gregg Araki’s work that can grow on you, if you don’t absolutely despise it at first viewing. I suspect that the older you are, the less you’ll get his films, but that’s okay, because his primary audience is Generation Y. Or maybe that should be “Generation Why,” the best description of the characters who stumble through his teensploitation flicks.
The Doom Generation is the second part of what Araki calls his teen apocalypse trilogy, the cream filling in the Oreo of Totally Fucked Up and Nowhere (reviewed elsewhere). While Nowhere is a very, very, very dark comedy, The Doom Generation is just dark, reflecting the despair of directionless youth tossed through life and battered by forces beyond their control or understanding. Our heroes are propelled on a journey to nowhere by events that happen with no explanation. Their only possible responses are the two most primal of options: fight or flee.
We begin in the middle of the action, stuck on the crowded dance floor of a club called Hell, where Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) is bored out of her mind and her boyfriend Jordan White (James Duval) is, well, wrapped around her finger, a condition that will happen literally much farther down the road. They retreat to the car for an attempt at sex, foiled by AIDS anxiety, and suddenly find themselves parked in the middle of an attack on Xavier Red (Jonathon Schaech), which may or may not be a gay bashing. The trio escape, Amy takes an instant dislike to Xavier even as Xavier has an obvious thing for Jordan, and she kicks him out of the car, only to have him return and rescue them when a demented mini-mart clerk (Dustin Nguyen) takes his “Shoplifters Will Be Shot” sign way too literally. Unfortunately for them, Xavier’s intervention involves accidentally blowing the clerk’s head off. The three panic and run, becoming bound by their unintentional crime. Shortly thereafter, a psychotic drive-through burger employee (Nicky Katt) claims he knows Amy, the woman who dumped him. She denies it, the trio runs from flying bullets once again and the employee vows to track Amy down and kill her.
That kind of thing happens to Amy a lot in the movie. On the surface, it may seem a ridiculous plot device, yet I’ve learned that Araki’s films are always deeply symbolic. Nothing is literal here. Amy, an everyteen, is stalked by grown-ups who project their desires onto her and expect compliance, or worse, as later on, when a certain group of adults project their fears. It’s significant to note that our trio doesn’t initiate any of the mayhem they cause along the way, but gets all of the blame, especially from a pair of glib media talking heads (Lauren Tewes and Araki regular Christopher Knight, aka Peter Brady).
Meanwhile, as all of these disasters are swirling around them, Xavier is slowly working on seducing Jordan, who is so blissfully naive that he’s actually seducing back without knowing it. Amy is probably more aware of this than she seems to be, later lending a hand (well, a digit) to the process, but only after she’s let Xavier work his charms (and other parts) on her. Araki has supertitled this work as “a heterosexual film,” but that’s a little bit more than tongue-in-cheek; it’s as much a love story between Xavier and Jordan as it is between Jordan and Amy.
The Doom Generation may seem to be plotless, but that’s an illusion. The story is the relationship between Amy, Jordan and Xavier, and Araki builds the tension artfully, playing a “will they or won’t they?” game between the two boys that’s almost always interrupted a nanosecond before the crucial moment. It’s a story that’s skillfully pulled off by his young performers, who hit all the right notes. McGowan (Jawbreaker) is the strong center of the three, a tough gal who gets tougher under pressure. Schaech (Splendor) completely lacks any self-consciousness as the enigmatic and horny stranger who would probably do anything for a thrill. And Duval, Araki’s regular stand-in, limns the precise edge between preternaturally dense and too sweet to be in this situation, leaving it always uncertain exactly how much of what’s going on he gets and how much has flown right over his head. It’s never exactly clear whether he’s ignorant of or complicit in Xavier’s seduction attempts.
As with Nowhere, Araki builds up an enormous erotic charge between his two male leads, only to yank the rug out from under us at every last moment. At the same time, he provides plenty of fire between Jordan and Amy and Amy and Xavier. It’s a credit to the director and performers when a sex scene that’s essentially a close-up of two faces can be far more erotic than the most hardcore of porno, but they pull it off (and have it off) many times through the course of the film. At the same time, The Doom Generation is gorily violent and bloody, but with most of the carnage shot so what you don’t see and what you think you see increase the impact.
The Doom Generation isn’t for everyone, but if you like dark, twisted, erotic films that aren’t quite literal, give it a shot. Araki truly has fun with it, tossing in-jokes at us left and right. The names Jordan and Amy are a nod to an old underground comic, and references to other elements of pop culture abound. As always, Araki also gives us a parade of famous cameos — keep an eye out for Margaret Cho, Perry Farrell, Amanda Bearse, Parker Posey and Heidi Fleiss, although (another Araki trademark) you won’t recognize most of them on first viewing. That’s emblematic of Araki’s directing style itself. It’s impeccably controlled, and he knows how to tell a story visually. He chooses to disguise his works as low-budget, indie exploitation flicks. But, as with his lead trio, surfaces are deceiving and it’s only when you look closer that you see what’s really lurking inside. The Doom Generation has a lot inside to recommend it.
Jon Bastian is a native and resident of Los Angeles and a playwright and screenwriter working in the TV trade.
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