Spoilers for the movie Kids
One of the most enduring factors of childhood is innocence. Take that away and you’re left with little else. Childhood takes up such a small fraction of every person’s life, and yet its subsequent influences can be lifelong if left untreated. The habits one creates in his or her formative years are tough, if nearly impossible, to break. The people one meets form the greatest opinions of what people must be like everywhere. Bad or good, childhood defines us, and innocence is rarely an immense presence.
The kids in Kids do exhibit “innocent” characteristics, albeit not in the conventional sense. Sure they do drugs, have sex, and sometimes commit crimes like robbery, breaking and entering, and lets not forget sexual assault, but theirs is an innocence of ignorance rather than purity. These kids could be said to have grown up too fast, but the reality is much darker: the kids haven’t grown up at all. Their exposure increases in inverse proportion to their maturity, as the responsibilities of life shift further down the priority list in lieu of the aforementioned drugs and sex.
A scene early on depicts a conversation between a set of boys and a set of girls, happening independent of each other but still concerning the same topic. The girls, almost in planned subsequence, correct the boys’ misconceptions about what they do and don’t like in sex and foreplay. The talks take on a call-and-response nature, as if connected by the only thing any teenager cares to think about happening in parallel unison. That is until HIV is brought up. The boys have a bullheaded supposition that HIV isn’t real, only a hoax to keep kids like themselves from having sex. Their reason for doubt is simple and heartbreaking: none of them know anyone with HIV, therefore it does not and cannot exist. Even if it is real, the boys rationalize, it’s better to die fucking since that’s what they love.
The boys’ conversation showcases a mentality that greatly implies few of them have a strong empathetic connection. A man is beaten to near death for barely any reason and not even considered for the duration of the story. One of the main characters, Casper, rapes a drugged girl for no better reason than apparent boredom. Though some characters, Casper in particular, show small acts of kindness, this is the exception rather than the rule. By and large, these kids don’t have a great understanding of responsibility or consequences for lack of any real problems affecting them day-to-day.
The girls, on the other hand, show more appreciation for the effects their actions have. When Jenny shows up to the park the boys left after beating a man senseless, the only person left to take it all in is a girl, shaking her head at the senselessness of it all. Only Jenny and her friend Ruby bear the burden of her grief after finding out she’s HIV positive. Of course, this all makes sense when viewed from the perspective of Telly’s young girlfriend: her sister got knocked up young so her mom actively discourages her from not having sex. Women must deal with the mistakes men make, the film suggests. It’s common knowledge that women mature faster than men, and Kids showcases this truth in a straightforward, unsettling fashion.
The story is obviously tragic. HIV serves as the first brush of real adult consequence these kids will have to face once they inevitably wake up from their hangovers. They’ll have to face the fact that they must either grow up or, as put earlier, “die fucking.” The problem lies in the fact that the movie makes it clear which route many of the characters will take. “I hope I die before I get old” sounds nice in theory, but in practice, agonizingly waiting for AIDS to claim your life after years of treatment tends to not be so sexy.
The plot is obviously aimless. No accurate representation of growing up can truly have “a point.” But unlike Perks of Being a Wallflower where the main character comes out the other end more well-adjusted, or Catcher In the Rye where Holden learns to accept his past and that which he cannot change, Kids ends with the haunting image of Casper, naked on a couch, asking the audience “What the fuck just happened?” Indeed. In that respect Kids seems more akin to Trainspotting and City of God, with it’s seemingly cyclical structure and extremely cynical tone.
The tragedy of Kids isn’t in antipathy. It exists in many places, but the most prominent of which is in its familiarity. I personally know several people who fit Casper’s exact mannerisms, to the point of feeling like the actor followed them around and copied their style wholesale. Most people who grew up in a city know each of these characters intimately, in friends or family members or kids they went to school with. So if the movie can’t educate us, why should it exist? What purpose does it serve beyond entertainment, if any?
I believe that familiarity, that tragedy resonates more greatly than any cautionary tale ever could. The taxicab who drives Jenny to Telly in vain, to tell him of the disease they share, gives some sage advice about happiness. “Just don’t think about the bad stuff” is what it ultimately boils down to. This attitude seems to be the crux of the movie’s message; horror and responsibility can be held at bay so long as one doesn’t acknowledge it. Jenny sulks and cries the whole movie, whereas Telly, her former lover, seduces two virgins in the same day into letting him deflower them. Even when asked about a lesion on his chest, a telltale sign of HIV, Telly simply laughs it off. “It’s my third nipple!” He jests, before violently fucking and subsequently passing his affliction on to a 13 year old.
The messiness of childhood’s end experienced here gives perspective to one’s own life if they’re brave enough to look deep within. It’s a PSA for men and women long past the age of needing one. It’s a way to look through a window and see a time when consequences seemed to not exist, realizing that they were always there, just a step ahead, waiting to greet you naked on the couch the next day, asking “What the fuck just happened?”