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Film / Kids

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Kids is a 1995 drama film directed by Larry Clark and written by Harmony Korine.

Leo Fitzpatrick and Justin Pierce star as Telly and Casper, two New York teenagers of around 17. Telly's mission in life is to deflower virgins, referring to himself as the "virgin surgeon". His latest sexual conquest has been 13-year-old Jennie (ChloŽ Sevigny).

The film charts a day in Telly and Casper's lives, as they go about their daily activities of using black slang, smoking pot, shoplifting, beating up a passerby who crosses them in the park, and attending midnight raves, whilst Jennie and her friend Ruby (Rosario Dawson) attempt to track them down and give Telly some information of life-and-death importance.

The film was and is extremely controversial for its frank, unabashed depiction of teen sexuality, deliquency and drug use, initially landing it an NC-17 ratingnote . It is notable for using untrained actors actually recruited from the street (this was Sevigny and Dawson's debut).

Critical reception of it was mixed, with some calling it "a wakeup call to America's youth" and others decrying as nothing more than a glorified exploitation film bordering on child porn with many scenes done for shock value only.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: It's not that the parents don't care, it's just that they are completely clueless. It is strongly implied that bad/non-existent parenting is the cause of Telly being such a horrible, morally indefensible human being. His mother is depicted as being pregnant, yet smoking at the same time and doesn't ask her son any questions where he goes all day and night, only asking him to "be back tomorrow".
  • All Men Are Perverts / All Women Are Lustful: All the characters treat sex as a kick rather than anything more serious.
  • Asshole Victim: Arguably the guy Casper and his friends batter at the skate park, who escalates an honest accident into a showdown.
  • Author Appeal: The film has been criticized for showing real teenagers, some clearly underage, taking drugs on camera and being shown in semi-nude and sexual positions. Seeing that Larry Clark also photographs such real life youngsters a lot and all of his other films have similar scenes, it's clearly something that interests him.
  • Big Applesauce: It takes place in New York City and depicts the city as a haven for debauchery.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Jenny only had unprotected sex once and gets HIV, while Ruby has had it several times and tests negative.
  • Children Are Innocent: The kids are shown as people who are morally unaware of what they are doing and freely indulge in illegal and ethically disturbing activities. So the fairly innocent-sounding title is a complete subversion of this concept. Yet, at the same time there is still an innocence to them, as they don't think about the consequences of their dangerous behaviour.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: About 90% of the dialogue in this movie consists of profanity.
  • Coup de Gr‚ce: After Casper, Telly, and their friends pummel another teen, the former delivers the final blow by striking him into unconsciousness (or better yet, dead) with his skateboard.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Children are usually perceived as innocent, adorable and the "hope for the future". This movie brutally shows them as horrible delinquents without a conscience, making you fear the worst about the way our society is heading.
  • Crapsack World: This cynical movie shows teenage life as dangerous, frightening, shocking and doomed. All of them just live for achieving egotistical kicks and nothing else. And the finale is such a Downer Ending that you might become an advocate for curfew for minors afterwards.
  • Creator Cameo: Harmony Korine appears briefly in an uncredited role as Fidget, a raver boy who coerces Jennie into taking a depressant at a party.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: At one point, Casper has a rough altercation with a man he bumps into at a skate park, and it quickly escalates into a fight. With the help of every kid nearby, the man is swiftly beaten into unconsciousness, if not death.
  • Darker and Edgier: Harmony Korine made this film because he felt most other teenage movies always had actors who were way too old to play teenagers and their stories always had a happy end, which he felt didn't feel true.
  • Doomed Protagonist: The girl in the opening scene and the four main characters all get exposed HIV and are doomed to die a young age (at least in that time period), a consequence of their irresponsible/immoral behaviour.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with Telly, Casper, Jennie and Darcy contracting or testing positively for HIV, with Casper raping Jennie at the end, unknowingly being exposed to it. Telly's final narration states that without sex he has nothing, implying he will further transmit the disease or that he just will end his life when he finds out.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: In the next-to-last scene, Jenny is raped while unconscious.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The teens freely engage in drugs, not only alcohol and marihuana, but even heroin. Jenny gets raped by Casper while she is in a drug-induced sleep. If she hadn't done this she could have probably prevented or stopped Telly having sex with Darcy and especially avoid being raped herself.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As morally corrupt as these teenagers are, they do get along fine with people from other races, and even show rare moments of empathy for the less fortunate (street performers, panhandlers).
  • Exploitation Film: The film has been accused of (borderline) being this.
  • From Bad to Worse: Every time when you think the teens can't behave any worse than the previous scene, it gets more shocking, culminating in the ending. Jenny fails to find Telly in time to tell him he gave her HIV, and when she finally discovers him, he is already having sex with another unsuspecting virgin. Her first time is extremely painful too, but he doesn't care about her feelings, even when she cries. Jenny doesn't do anything to stop them, as she swallowed a drug some hours ago and is too dizzy and tired to react. Later on, as she sleeps off her drug effects, she gets raped in her coma by Casper, giving him HIV, too.
  • Good Bad Girl: Ruby's extensive resume of sexual experience is actually kind of astonishing, but she's really a very sweet girl.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Casper envies Telly for having more sex than him. When he sees that he scored again, he eventually decides to rape Jenny in her sleep.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: The director seems to take delight in depicting teenage love as repulsive and icky as possible, with the extreme closeups of characters' kissing each others' mouths in the opening shot as a typical example. It doesn't help that many teenagers in this movie aren't exactly portrayed as the most likeable or attractive characters. And the notion that Telly has HIV makes it even more Squick.
  • Grotesque Gallery: Some of the actors appear to be cast on how ugly and repulsive they could look and act.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Telly and Casper.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Apart from drugs teenagers only seem to live for sex in this film.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Teens don't care about the ethics or consequences of their behaviour, while some adults, like Telly's mother, don't even care about their children.
  • Instant Seduction: Occurs not once, but twice, the first time involving Telly talking a young virgin into having sex in literally a minute and a half.
  • Irony: Quite a bit.
    • Ruby really gets around, but it's Jennie that turns up HIV-positive.
    • See Laser-Guided Karma for what happens to Casper.
    • Among Telly's stupid ideas about virgins, he particularly cherishes the idea that the girl will remember him for the rest of her life. Cut to Ruby telling a bunch of giggling girls that she can't even remember the name of her first. About Telly himself, Jennie states flat out that "It wasn't that he took my virginity. It was that he never spoke to me again!"
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The young man that picked a fight with Casper did so over a rather petty reason, even when the latter apologized, you still have to give him some credit as he's the only person in the entire film to call him or any of his friends out for their horrible behavior.
  • KidAnova: Telly and Ruby.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Telly, who never cared about the well being of any of his partners and considered AIDS a myth, contracted HIV. Casper ends up raping Jennie in the final scene, also contracting the disease.
  • Likes Older Women: Implied with Casper, who ogles Telly's mother, lusts after the most physically mature girl in the gang, and expresses, albeit non-judgmentally, an aversion to his friend's proclivities.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Jenny's reaction to the news she has contracted HIV is very underwhelming. She doesn't cry, panic or get upset, but seems more confused than anything else. It could be argued that she is just in shock.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: One of the fundamental examples of this trope in film. Despite having teenage protagonists, the movie deals with the characters smoking drugs, performing juvenile delinquency, and even trying out sex for the first time. Ironically, the movie was intended to be viewed by preteens, but its mature content was serious enough to earn it a rating of NC-17.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: Telly is obsessed with the allure of virgins and virginity.
  • No Ending: The film ends after all the irreparable damage by the teens' foolishness has taken place. Yet we never see Jenny telling Telly the big news and how he, Darcy, Casper would react to that.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The teens dish a brutal one to an unlucky hoodlum who tries to pick a fight with Casper when the latter accidentally bumps into him while skateboarding, to the point where it's possible that they killed him.
  • Older Than They Look: Chloe Sevigny was 20 during filming, yet she doesn't look any older than Rosario Dawson, who was 15.
  • One-Word Title: Kids.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Casper who is portrayed as gullible for drugs, but does give a legless beggar some money in one scene. Compared to his demonic friend Telly he also comes across as far more sympathetic. Yet in the end even he turns to the dark side by raping a drugged out girl in her sleep.
  • Parental Abandonment / Parental Neglect: Telly's mother never asks her son what he is doing all day and night long. We don't learn why this is so, but it is implied that he comes from a broken home. With all the other teens, there's also open questions: where are the parents half of the time? Are they at work? Are the teens orphans? Are they all clueless or don't they care at all? Even the teens don't mention them much.
  • Parental Obliviousness: This film is pretty much every parents' worst nightmare about what their sons and daughters (might) do behind their backs: having unprotected sex and getting deadly venereal diseases as a result, drinking, smoking, taking drugs bought right on the street (which is always dangerous because you don't know what you're being sold), stealing, hanging out with people who are a bad influence on them, showing no respect to other people, even downright murdering somebody, breaking in and entering buildings, raping someone or getting raped, etc. At a certain point it does get a bit over the top, especially since the characters all do this in the timespan of only one day!
  • Rape as Drama: A more complicated version. The victim is a person living with HIV. The subtext would tend to indicate the victim is much more concerned for the rapist.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Implied by Casper unknowingly contracting HIV.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The filmmakers have suggested that a lot of the outrage over the depiction of everyday teenage life in this film has more to do with the fact that people are more used to safe, idyllic depictions of teenagers usually played by actors who are way too old to convincingly portray such roles. Most people aren't aware of actual teenage life or, as Larry Clark said: "Parents forget what it was like when they were kids."
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • Harmony Korine himself was once a skater and actually met Larry Clark in a skate park.
    • Korine was only around 21-22 years old when he wrote the script/
    • All the teenage actors in the film were just random teens Korine and Clark met on the New York streets or people from Korine's own skater posse.
    • Actress ChloŽ Sevigny was Korine's girlfriend at the time.
    • Director Larry Clark was hooked on heroin himself when he was a teenager and spent many years among his peers having the same kind of debaucherous life in New York City. He gained his first notability as a photographer in the 1970s, taking pictures of teens from broken and dysfunctional families taking drugs and stripping (half) nude on camera.
  • Really Gets Around: Telly and Ruby.
  • Sarcastic Title: The title brings up far more innocent associations than what is depicted in this movie.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Though some critics have argued it's more for parents than for the teens themselves.
  • Sex Is Evil: All sex depicted in this movie is either questionably consensual (the boy not caring whether the girl enjoys it, even when she is in pain) or downright rape. It's also completely devoid of any other emotion than pure lust and teens just spread STD's around, making the scenes even more repulsive.
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: Telly's mother smokes while being pregnant.
  • STD Immunity: Averted. At least five characters that we know of either have HIV (Telly, Jenny) or have a serious chance of having contracted it (Darcy, Casper and the unnamed girl in the opening scene).
  • Teenage Wasteland: All throughout the film teenagers just hang out freely and follow every possible kick they can find, from drugs to unprotected sex, without any regard for their environment. Adults are hardly seen and the only one who tries to call them out for their bad behaviour is beaten up and presumably murdered by them.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Par for the course for a Larry Clark film.
  • Time Marches On: New York City as depicted in this film has changed a lot since this movie was made. Mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani, who was in charge from 1994 to 2001, oversaw a large clean-up of the city from crime, making the once crime-infested metropolis a lot safer in comparison.
  • Truth in Television: Longitudinal studies of adolescent and early adult sexual behavior in economically depressed urban areas frequently gather data which can be horrifying.
  • Unexpected Positive: Played for tragedy. A character who has only had sex once has an HIV test to encourage her promiscuous friend to do the same. Guess which one's positive.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Telly is sometimes heard as a voiceover giving his opinions about sex and teenage life in general. Most of what he says is either incorrect, ignorant or claims that can't be verified. For instance: how can he be so sure that all his sex partners are virgins? This also blows up in his face hard, as it turns out that he did contract HIV, anyway.
  • Vague Age: Many teens look like actual people in the 13 to 16-year-old age bracket, but according to film producer Cary Woods the children in the sexual content scenes are 17 and above.
  • Villain Protagonist: Telly, who is everything you don't want your child to be.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: The film ends with Casper waking up and asking the camera "Jesus Christ, what happened?"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The girl in the opening scene is never seen or mentioned again later in the film.
  • Wild Teen Party: The climax takes place at one of these.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: All of them just live for the moment and are quite clueless what they're doing with their monotone lifestyle. As Telly explains: "When you're young, nothing matters much."

"Jesus Christ... what happened?"