What’s the Matter with Kids
I haven’t seen Spring Breakers, and I never will. I have not seen any movie directed by Harmony Korine, and I probably never will either. There’s no way I can see me doing so producing any kind of joy, for me or anyone who’s interested in me enough to ask if I’ve seen it. That’s because Kids still trumps Garden State and A Clockwork Orange as the most nauseating, loathsome, worthless “good movie” I’ve ever seen that people still insist on talking about.
As a 19 year old, self-romanticizing NYU film school dropout, Harmony Korine had zero understanding of how NYC natives actually talked, so he used badly translated ebonics and meshed it with the Nashville hoodrat dialect he grew up with. He put that dialogue in a screenplay with zero plot development, abhorrent and uninteresting characters. The film’s real time-ish structure would seemed interesting and novel if you hadn’t seen any other indie or foreign film in the past 40 years. The film is ill-informed, clunky, and pretentious in spite of itself, clearly written by someone who thinks they’re way more important than they actually are but without anything interesting to say. Someone, like, say, a student film written by a 19 year old NYU film school with an attitude problem who knows how to market himself..
The worst part of it all, though, was that people ATE IT UP. I have no idea what the film establishment or young adults in other parts of the country thought of it at the time. Maybe it was just that native NY kids hadn’t seen any other movie about them yet. Maybe teenagers and film critics weren’t used to seeing non-sanitized depictions of themselves. I don’t know, and even if I did, I’ll never understand it.
In my world, when the movie came out, the prep school monsters I grew up with were just starting to realize how much shit they could get away with. Virtually overnight, after this film’s release, people starting talking about the film, and worse, they started talking like the film. I remember one after-school program I went to, which at first I thought was an inner city school that our rich liberal parents were meshing us with in a token nod to diversity. These events were not out of the ordinary in the Upper West Side at the height of the political correctness era, and they were as forced and condescending as they sound. I couldn’t believe that it was another $20,000/year tuition, 90% Jewish private school. As it turned out, they had just seen Kids before us. I was 9 years old. By the time I began bar mitzvah lessons, lines and cadences from this movie were so commonplace that had basically become synonymous with blowing a 12 year old and shooting heroin.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, it’s not. By the time my brother and sister had their bar and bat mitzvah in 2004, 11-12 year old girls being peer pressured into giving blowjobs were so commonplace, our rabbi asked my brother and sister to leave the room before warning me and my parents about their prevalence (why I was in the room for this I will never understand). Several of my elementary school classmates were in and out of rehab three times by the time they were 16, and those are just the ones whose parents my parents kept in touch with. And because this was the 1990s and the kids involved were predominantly Jewish, parents who were new to privilege but understood how to threaten lawsuits and still saw themselves as part of a persecuted group protected their children from anything resembling consequences for their actions. “Sociopath” seems like too kind of a word for some of them.
From a young age, for whatever reason, I knew this world wasn’t for me. I was a mess in middle school, and was “asked to leave” two schools and three summer camps between the ages of 10-13. I didn’t know what straight edge was at the time, but I had the straight edge rant. I wished I had; by high school, when I’d finally worked my way to a functional mental health state and a better school, I almost never went out of the apartment for my personal life until my senior year. I still saw drug use and meaningless sex with people I hated as my only outlet for social activity (in hindsight, the sex would’ve been alright). So instead, I spent most weekends in high school alone at home, renting movies and watching TV, and getting into arguments with my parents who begged me not to spend another Saturday night at home by myself.
Eventually, on one of these countless Saturday nights, I decided to rent Kids. After years of hearing the movie quoted and referenced, I finally decided to see what the fuss was about, and if the movie raved about by the people I was avoiding was worth my inherent mistrust. An hour and a half later, with utter bafflement as to why the fuck anyone thought that movie was worth talking about, let alone celebrating, I concluded that the movie was even worse than I had feared. My blood is boiling even thinking about the time I watched this. I’ve had to cut out several paragraphs of unrelated rants about my childhood out of this draft.
I’m working on getting over my resentment and living with the scars of my childhood. It’s a tall order, and it’s one of the major reasons I’m leaving NYC, but I have faith that I’ll get over it all some day. But even if I stop actively hating my childhood, I don’t think there’s ever a chance for me to approach any work by Harmony Korine with a clear enough head to give it its due and enjoy it on any level. I hear his movies have evolved since Kids. I’ll never know.