Tricks Are for Kids

Larry Clark's inflammatory tale depicts teens stalked by their own lust

Kids, director Larry Clark's astounding first feature, is a teen horror movie with a unique twist: The predators stalking the film's youth are not madmen with black ski caps and roaring chain saws, but the teens' own sexual desires, uncontrolled and tinctured with viral menace. Clark's kids are a post-hip wild bunch who seem more animal than human, and their indiscriminate sexual adventures are of a piece with their burping, talking with food in their mouths, shouting, shoving, scratching themselves, and brawling. Even when their mouths are unobstructed, their fractured patois defies comprehension: They may have been spawned by human civilization, but they aren't part of it.

Primal creatures such as these need a jungle to live in, and Clark gives them one -- today's Manhattan, littered with trash and drug dealers and skateboarders ready to pull a knife at the tiniest provocation. As in Lord of the Flies, there are no adults; only one boy, the main character, Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), has a mother, and her brief appearance is confined to a few ineffectual sighs. Otherwise the kids are on their own, guided by nothing more than base instincts that bloom obscenely, as if in a garden watered by hormones.

Telly isn't even shaving yet, but despite his crooked teeth he's mop-top handsome, and he knows how to use his looks along with a vapid romantic shtick to get what he wants: cherries to pop. Like so many American men, Telly is a pinpoint obsessive about sex -- he's really turned on only by fucking virgins who've barely entered puberty. He will kiss and fondle and sweet-talk and endure blow jobs if doing so will help him get where he's going to, but none of that brings him pleasure. He's an erotic monomaniac. Like a man drinking seawater, he becomes thirstier with every sip; he gluts himself with virgins, but he cannot stop wanting more.

Kids was written by 21-year-old Harmony Korine, who can't resist planting the occasional bit of jarring poetry in his characters' mouths. ("She's a vision of perfection," Telly exults about one virgin -- most of the time he can't pronounce a word more complicated than "fuck.") Although the movie's story is fictional, it plainly strives toward a street-smart realism, and it often looks like a documentary.

Clark keeps his camera almost constantly in motion as it tracks his trash-talking protagonists through the streets of the city, along crowded sidewalks, into parks filled with loitering crowds, down into the 77th Street subway station. On the subway train, the camera sits on the floor, watching a legless black man (wearing a T-shirt that says, "Kiss Me, I'm Polish") push himself along on a skateboard. He's one of the world's more polite panhandlers, and Telly's friend Casper (Justin Pierce), in his only act of civility, tosses him a few coins.

Telly, having little use for the girls he's deflowered, is a glowing sex comet with a tail of disillusioned girls pining. One of them is 16-year-old Jenny (Chloe Sevigny), who looks like Chris Evert and wears a pensive expression that belies the empty company she keeps. Telly was her first and only, she reveals in an early, girls-only scene. But despite her slender experience, she gets a rude shock when she accompanies her friend Ruby (Rosario Dawson) to the free clinic. Ruby checks out clean (despite a couple of episodes of unprotected anal sex), but Jenny tests positive for HIV.

Jenny's intuitive search for Telly resembles Dante's tour of the seven circles of hell. She is glassy-eyed, occasionally in tears, but determined to find him, and the neon city flashes by luridly through the windows of the cabs that shuttle her about. If she finds Telly, what will she tell him? What will she do? What can she do? Even she doesn't know.

Finally she does find him, at a party being given by a boy named Steven (Joe Abrahams), whose parents are out of town. Telly has appropriated the master bedroom for the purpose of stuffing 13-year-old Darcy (Yakira Peguero), who worries that the act will hurt and wants to make sure Telly cares about her. (Of course he does. He hasn't come yet.)

Outside the bedroom door, the party has become an orgy for munchkins. Beer and booze and dope everywhere. Shirtless boys puking wretchedly in the toilet while a stupefied Casper watches from the bathtub. Boys with no hair under their arms having their nipples licked and unable to keep themselves from laughing, because it tickles rather than thrills; they're too young to be sexual, but there's no one around old enough to clue them in. Jenny, meanwhile, moves gingerly across a parlor floor scattered with motionless bodies toward the door that separates her from Telly and the confrontation she seeks.

"Shut the fuckin' door!" Telly bellows in midpoke -- a depressingly characteristic introduction to what is surely one of the most shattering scenes of moral deflation ever filmed.

Kids handles its inflammatory and upsetting material with a perfect affectlessness, but all the same the film sounds a ringing alarm. Kids locates with stark precision the cause-and-effect relationship between a lack of adult guidance and youthful mayhem -- the kids' destruction of themselves and everything around them. Kids don't raise themselves; they can't. No matter how smart they are, they haven't lived long or richly enough to earn wisdom, and Larry Clark's kids aren't even smart, just horny and street-savvy. They are sweet-faced beasts in sagging Dickies, rutting like rabbits, propagating both their own kind and a deadly virus that will, by lethally turning their lust against them, right nature's balance.

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