Larry Clark's Kids is deeply disconcerting depiction of the life of some very maladjusted inner city teens. In fact, it's so disturbing that some people cannot tolerate watching it. That the movie stars real street teens rather than polished actors makes it that much more unsettling.
"Kids" is also one of the best movies ever made, in my modest estimation.
Make no mistake: Kids does not glorify the lifestyles it depicts. But by that same token, it does not denigrate them. Instead, it shows in harsh, unvarnished verisimilitude, without exaltation and without condemnation, what can happen when kids, especially those from rough backgrounds, are allowed to their own devices, without any sort of real adult guidance.
The plot concerns a day in the life of some teenagers as they go about scoring drugs, getting into fights, going to parties, and having sex. What is disturbing, of course, is how young the kids are, and also the vengenance with which they embark on their malicious mischief.
We all know that kids will be kids - some better behaved than others - and that a certain measure of mischief is not only inevitable, but healthy for maturity. The obtusely obedient child will suffer at a later stage from not conceding to their instinctively anarchic anti-authoritarianism, while the rowdily rebellious child will grow up too irrepressibly wayward. On the other hand, the child who indulges rebellion temperately may well become a keenly adjusted adult.
But in "Kids," there is a palpable dearth of adult supervision and compassion, which yields tragic results and becomes a foreboding foretaste of the criminal lifestyle these kids are destined to inhabit. In fact, there is already a terrifying transgression in the form of a rape, which forms the film's shocking core, and indeed engendered the controversy that initially plagued the film.
But of course, Larry Clark is not endorsing misogynistic violence, but rather rendering reality in all of its repulsive rawness. The contents are meant to shock, yes but not in a way that degrades us, but in a way that jars us out of our collective stupor.
And naturally Clark is not preaching to us nor inveighing us to exhibit more compassion, because these strategies are antithetical to his style. Rather, he is showcasing truth and allowing us to make of it what we will.
Nonetheless, Kids is a visionary film embedded with genuine heart. It's clear that Clark empathizes with these kids even as he holds them at a distance in order to film their story in stark, uncompromising style. At times the film feels like a documentary, and Clark's patent purpose was to mar the distinction between fact and fiction so as to shake us awake, as it were.
Kids might be objectionable to those who prefer a happy Hollywoodized incarnation of reality, but for those of us who imbibe life for what it is in all its traumatizing truth, the film is refreshingly, if repellently, real.