The Living End (1992)
★ / ★★★★
Jon (Craig Gilmore) has just been informed by his doctor that he is HIV-positive. The news is a shock to him because he has made it a habit to use protection when he engages sexually with other men. As he drives downtown, Luke (Mike Dytri), running away from three gay-bashers, jumps in front of Jon’s car, desperate for a getaway ride. Jon, still in shock from the bad news and what is happening in his car, decides to take Luke back to his place until it is safe. The next night, Luke’s new friend, covered in blood, confesses that he had just killed a cop and Luke is invited to run away to San Francisco.
“The Living End,” written and directed by Gregg Araki, is so drenched in cynicism, mostly everything about it got under my nerves. While understandable that the script wishes to focus on a counterculture involving the mindset that lies somewhere along the lines of “Live fast, die young,” the experience of watching it might have sustained our attention if it had given us a protagonist who is conflicted but morally strong despite his ailing health. Instead, Jon is pathetic almost every step of the way.
Each time Luke takes off his shirt or pulls out a gun for the sake of being macho, Jon becomes weak in the knees. This could have been somewhat amusing if Luke had something surprising to offer other than his physicality and homicidal tendencies. He has no sense of humor. We never get a feel of how he thinks. Even though there is something about him that feels empty, it is not enough to warrant consistent interest and make us wonder about where he comes from or how he comes to be the way he is.
Most of the time I found him rather boring watch or listen to. He is neither intelligent nor brave, caring nor passionate about anything of substance or value. When he expresses that he does not care about anything or anyone along with his desire to die young so he will never have to be “fat and old,” I did not feel a thing even though I knew that I should.
However, there is a point when the material comes close to how good it could have been. As Jon and Luke become intimate in the shower, unlike the other times when they share each other’s flesh, there is a tenderness and comic timing about it. Despite the negativity that surrounds them outside the shower and the dark thoughts that haunt their minds, it is refreshing to see them happy even for only a few minutes.
“The Living End” provides very little dramatic pull that we can engage in. After all of its conflicting messages, does it mean to imply that just because one is HIV-positive, one can or should live his or her life so recklessly as though there are no repercussions? Its doom and gloom is not only not all that stylish visually. More importantly, the material fails to provide the required substance to get us to care about the subjects and their trials.