I watched this last night and can't seem to get it out of my head. Here's what I wrote on Flixster:
"Every so often a film comes along that I don't know how to rate. This film made me sad, angry, depressed, helpless, and hopeless. But it did so because of an effective story and characters. So is it a good movie or is it irresponsible filmmaking?
The plot is so far outside of my frame of reference it's hard to believe. Is this what urban kids really are like? Are they really that unsupervised? Why don't their parents give a shit? Where are their parents, even? That was probably one if the saddest parts of the film- the absence of caring, guiding adults. Sigh.
One scene you're thinking to yourself, These kids are gonna get exactly what they deserve for being so stupid. But the next you're thinking But they're just kids and they honestly don't know any better.
KIDS is what happens when babies grow up with unchecked ids and ego...
It reminded me of Lord of the Flies."
It was interesting for me to see how my attachment to the film changed when Jennie gets her big news. Before, I was watching purely from a sociological perspective, but when it came down to life and death I became much more emotionally involved. Let me say that the film is a universe away from my personal adolescent experience. It was only after reading some reviews on Flixster attesting to its truthfulness that I was even able to get over the fact that I couldn't even really believe that there are children out there that are that neglected. Or let me check myself (and perhaps reveal a little about my own ignorance)- I couldn't believe that there were white kids out there that neglected. I think part of the brilliance of the film is that it's about white city kids. Where a film like Boyz n the Hood is powerful and deeply affecting, it remains other for me. Certainly I care about poverty in the inner city. But it's an overwhelming problem, and it affects largely a culture and race I am not immediately part of and with which I don't have regular contact. But a film about white kids (and their black, Asian, and Hispanic friends) hits me in a more personal way, right or wrong. For me (and for Clark's intended audience) it is a lot harder to detach myself because I am able to see the particulars of these kids' situation more distinctly instead of lumping the whole thing together. While all the major races are represented, the white kids are the primary instigators, sexually and physically. Unsupervised children is a universal problem, not just a black one.
Caspar is an interesting character. He starts out as the foil for Telly- passive to his aggressive. He smokes and drinks while Telly preys on young girls. One might start to idealize him or let him comfortably settle into a pothead stereotype (he evens gives change to a man on the subway, while Telly doesn't even notice the man), until he initiates a vicious attack on a young black man (one of the more disturbing sequences in the film). He still can be compared favorably to Telly, though, until the final scene in the film, where he takes advantage of Jennie and we realize that there are no white hats in this movie. But there are no bad guys, either, because these are all KIDS.
Telly is probably the most reprehensible character in the film, for obvious reasons. But in his final monologue, he reveals the the audience that sex is pretty much all he has to live for. So even this young man, who at first seems only callous and vile, turns out to be hanging on the edge of the precipice himself, clinging to the one thing that gives him any sense of control in his world.
I felt that Clark also let the camera rest deliberately on the younger kids in many of the group scenes. The most memorable one is the group of prepubescent boys squeezed together in a chair, talking and smoking pot that one of them got from his brother. In the absence of caring adults, younger kids learn their values from older children, who are clearly in no place to be passing them on. There are a number of other scenes, too, that give us a clue as to how this cycle of bad decisions and deformed or aborted morals is going to continue on to the "next generation," who only are a few years younger. It is telling when Clark pans the camera away from Caspar's rape and points it at a younger boy lying passed out next to them? Will he be the next one to give or accept a diseased adolescence to one of his peers?
Jennie's predicament seems to shake her out of the unreal world that all these kids are a part of, where the present is all that matters. Aside from Telly planning his next conquest, we don't ever hear any of the characters talk about the future at all. Only Jennie (who, by the way, seems to be one of the few characters who we can assume comes from a more well-off family, expanding the socioeconomic scope of the film in a subtle but effective way) mutters to herself in the cab, "I'm not going to die, I'm not going to die." She sets off to find Telly to preach to him the harsh gospel of reality (which will likely spread like wildfire among the group, especially considering the number of Telly's escapades), but she is waylaid by a drug dealer in a club (played by Korine, interestingly enough) who pretty much renders her attempt impotent. There will be no pin to puncture the festering boil these kids are trapped in. Not yet.
I wonder how necessary the final scene, where Caspar seems to break the fourth wall, really is. Is it the director saying, "I have a conscience about this film but have deliberately stayed away from trying to be preachy to hit my points home more effectively"? Or is Korine saying, "My adolescence was F%$&d up- what happened?" If it's the former, then I didn't need it. I felt that in subtle ways Clark showed the audience that he felt and knew he was filming a tragedy. Any detractors who say that he was being exploitative for the sake of sensationalism is not really watching the film. If it's the latter, then it just makes KIDS all the more tragic. Korine, only 19 at the time, was likely writing what he knew. Now that he's out of it, in the real world, he still has no sense for "what happened"- which may be more indicative of how many urban kids feel once they've escaped the teen years than any of us would like to hope or believe.
I really, really hope one of you has seen this! I want to hear other opinions.
Also, I watched Greenberg finally and know I need to write about it. But as I mentioned earlier, I couldn't get this out of my head.