Gregg Araki’s savagely comic, deeply romantic “The Living End” (at selected theaters) wastes no time in getting to the point. Within its first five minutes, Jon (Craig Gilmore) learns that he has tested HIV-positive. In order to head off an inevitable mood of gloom, Araki swiftly cuts away from Jon to another young man, Luke (Mike Dytri), a sexy, well-muscled drifter, caught up in a series of outrageous and comical adventures on the road.
By the time Jon and Luke meet 20 minutes into the film, Jon, reeling from his bad news, is so vulnerable to the reckless Luke, who’s also HIV-positive, that he’s soon driving him to San Francisco, where Luke promises, “I’ll figure something out.” Luke, in fact, is on the lam, having inadvertently killed a cop in L.A.
Luke is a quintessential male street hustler, and his looks--as well as his life--may be fleeting, but for the moment, he’s a gay macho fantasy. Living entirely by his wits and his body, Luke is the kind of guy who can quickly become bad news, but Araki moves beyond this stereotype to show us a man with both a hunger and capacity for love.
We know Jon’s type from Araki’s previous two no-budget features, “Three Bewildered People in the Night” and “The Long Weekend (O’ Despair).” Jon has a small but nice apartment filled with pop art collectibles and movie posters. He dabbles in free-lance film articles--he’s currently writing, amusingly enough, one he calls “The Death of the Cinema.” Whereas Luke, a headstrong man of action, is a new kind of character for Araki, Jon is typical of Araki’s young people--educated, neurotic, sitting around and thrashing about trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and in some instances, to sort out their sexual identities.
Punctuated with natural sounds and cutting-edge music, “The Living End” is also a new kind of movie for the filmmaker, who retains his starkly beautiful vision of a lonely, nihilistic L.A. but who moves for the first time into genre, in this case the road movie.
That the young men are gay at once energizes the genre, and the genre in turn brings gays closer to the mainstream. Look at what “Thelma & Louise” did for the road picture--and for women on the screen.
Araki has always presented a mix of gays and straights in close, supportive friendships, but this is the first time he’s told an out-and-out gay love story involving two young men of very different temperaments, lifestyles and values. Araki does leave them from time to time to focus on Jon’s best friend Darcy (Darcy Marta), who seems to love Jon more than her boyfriend and is increasingly worried about him running off with Luke.
On another level “The Living End” (Times-rated Mature for adult themes, lovemaking, language) is perhaps most important as an expression of rage over the catastrophe of AIDS, the Reagan-Bush administrations in particular, and, in general, a revelation of just how profoundly dislocating a positive result for the HIV test can be. The entire thrust of this provocative, harrowing yet ironically exhilarating film is to make it clear that ultimately, alienated by the AIDS virus rather than by sexual orientation, Jon and Luke have only each other.
‘The Living End’
Craig Gilmore: Jon
Mike Dytri: Luke
Darcy Marta: Darcy
Mary Woronov: Daisy
An October Films presentation of a Strand Releasing/Desperate Pictures production. Writer-director-cinematographer-editor Gregg Araki. Producers Marcus Hu, Jon Gerrans. Executive producers Evelyn Hu, Jon Jost, Henry Rosenthal, Mike Thomas. Music Cole Coonce. Sound designer George Lockwood. Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.
Times-rated Mature (for adult themes, lovemaking, language).