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‘The Living End’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 12, 1992

"The Living End" chronicles the exploits, mostly erotic and excretory, of an HIV-positive couple on the lam in what director-writer Gregg Araki snidely refers to as "the desolate, quasi-surrealistic American Wasteland." A scruffy road movie with Craig Gilmore and Mike Dytri as hunky homosexuals, this pretentious drama on alienation, anger and living outside the law recalls the punk outrage of "Sid and Nancy" and boasts of its cinematic influences -- Jean-Luc Godard, Andy Warhol and assorted other poseurs. In case nobody notices, Araki plasters the sets with movie posters.

It's convenient that Gilmore plays a movie critic, Jon, who offers this to Dytri, as the buff hustler Luke. "You know what they say: Those that can't do, teach. And those that can't teach get 25 cents a word to rip other people's work." In this case, there aren't quarters to equal the pleasure of condemning this tiresomely nihilistic self-indulgence. Originally titled "{Expletive} the World," it is a profane gesture meant to shock and enrage. Certainly there's no other reason, not a dramatic one anyhow, for recording Luke's bowel movements. Unless Araki figures this will be something everyone can relate to.

Needless to say, "The Living End" is not for just everyone, not even lesbians, who are depicted as foul-mouthed, green-eyed man killers (Mary Woronov and Johanna Went). After narrowly escaping death at their hands, Luke, now armed with their gun, runs into a quartet of gay-bashers and shoots them dead. Jon, who is passing the scene, rescues the blood-splattered Luke and takes him home, where they make love but not before Jon tells the other man that he has just learned he's carrying the AIDS virus. "Welcome to the club, partner," whispers Luke in one of the film's few touching human moments.

Jon, a conventional sort, is infatuated by the rebellious Luke, a Valley Guy who says "dude" a lot and drinks bourbon from a Ninja Turtles water bottle. When Luke kills a cop off-screen, he persuades Jon to run away with him to the quasi-surrealistic wasteland. They swear, urinate, drink and pleasure one another in various fashions -- none of them exactly explicit. Jon's only contact with the life he left behind is a woman friend (Darcy Marta) whom he phones collect from time to time.

The relationship between the leading men begins to disintegrate as Luke becomes increasingly obsessed with suicide. Their lovemaking becomes a reflection of this awful circumstance, just as their conversations become flirtations with death. Luke's anger turns inward finally, and he attempts to destroy himself and debase the only man he ever loved. His rage is understandable; too bad the movie isn't. Crudely made and in your face, "The Living End" is mostly annoying.

"The Living End" is unrated but contains profanity, sex and violence.

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