The words fly haphazardly across the screen while Trent Reznor screams over heady beats that God is dead: “A HETEROSEXUAL FILM BY GREGG ARAKI.”
A young woman is standing at the centre of a dystopian nightmare. Fire burns in drums around her and people shudder and jolt aggressively as they dance, but she is unfazed. She attempts to light the cigarette dangling tentatively from her lips, but her lighter fails her. Annoyed, she speaks the opening line of the film; the line that’ll introduce the audience to both the character and the world and set the mood for an hour and a half to come:
I first discovered the subtle joys of The Doom Generation and Gregg Araki’s oeuvre at age thirteen, after receiving an unmarked CD in the mail from an online friend. Like me, this friend was aged thirteen and, confused about his sexuality and unable to deal with said confusion had made his way online, where we had found and clung to each other with the kind of desperation that goes hand in hand with the isolating belief you might be completely alone: The Only Gay in All the World.
“Did u get it???” he’d asked days later on MSN Messenger, that bastion for sad and lonely late 90s teenagers everywhere.
“Yeah!” I replied, unsure of what else to say. The movie had been wildly intense, and though I had appreciated it on what I thought was an artistic level, I’d also held a single, terrified thought at the back of my brain for the movie’s duration: Can they actually film this stuff? Is this even allowed? (Lucky for my brain, then, I wouldn’t see Pink Flamingos for another three years – though, at sixteen, I found myself much more blasé towards ideas of ultraviolence and the consumption of canine faecal matter.)
For a queer youngster growing up in the suffocating depths of Australian suburbia; someone who was slowly figuring out that he didn’t appreciate his family’s continuous jokes about his “little girlfriends,” and someone who coaxed himself to sleep by imagining hugging the Romeo + Juliet iteration of Leonardo DiCaprio, this was on the verge of being Way Too Much. Spoiler alert: for all its claims of HETEROSEXUALITY, The Doom Generation is not a particularly HETEROSEXUAL film. At all.
The story concerns three teenagers – Amy Blue, Jordan White and Xavier Red (I see what you did there, Araki) – as they road-trip across the country killing strangers, doing drugs, eating Doritos and having sex with each other. Also, everything costs $6.66, because of course it does. As they make their way towards an undisclosed destination, Araki’s gaze turns inward, from the visual destruction of the landscape around them to the nubile bodies of his three leads.
In a neo-noir nod to the dystopian stylings of Blade Runner and Daryl Hannah’s character Priss, many of the costumes are made of sheer plastic. The film equates death as completely interchangeable with sex, and as such it’s not uncommon for the film to cut from the three youngsters slaughtering a shop assistant with a machete to them in various states of undress, thrusting at and into each other. As they discover each others’ bodies, so too do the audience: the camera playing lovingly across these three young naked physiques with theatrical and dreamy coloured lighting and an otherwise hallucinatory design.
“Yeah, I got it!” I reply, adding an exclamation point in an attempt to show my confidence and dispel the fears I hold of police bursting into my room and beating me up; holding that blank disc accusatorily over me and snarling: “And what’s this, then? People having sex? Casually?!”
My friend’s reply comes like lightening: “How great is it?”
Suddenly my mouth is bone dry and I gulp, trying in vain to dispel the film’s more sultry images from my brain – the images of Jonathan Schaech (the “Xavier” character) shirtless and smouldering and standing over James Duval, and –
“Yeaaaaaah,” I type. “Pretty great!”
Maybe the film is HETEROSEXUAL, then, as I distinctly remember wishing these two male characters would act on their hidden desires together, and being displeased that they never did. If it is, it was unlike any other blatantly HETEROSEXUAL film I’d seen up until this point: three characters pushing against the norm, unafraid to enjoy “goth” music or strange television or their bodie. The film industry’s gender roles are swiftly subverted, with Rose McGowan playing the femme fatale from moment one, but instead of acting seductive or pandering to any male gaze, taking charge; a sexual and violent young woman who knows what she wants and has a mouth that’d make a sailor blush. “Eat my fuck!” she snaps as she lights another cigarette or holds a sword out towards the exposed neck of the threatening shop assistant on the ground in front of her.
Through the importance of representation, The Doom Generation made it just a little bit easier to be me, or to be anyone left of centre. A little bit more acceptable, like: “it’s okay that you feel displaced. Other people out there exist who feel exactly the same, and they’re making movies, now, so get over it and on with it!”
Now of course, I seem needlessly melodramatic, but at the time, watching this film felt like an epic undertaking. This was my gateway drug, and once I’d taken it there was no looking back: I’d been opened up to a world free of judgement; a world of self actualisation where hating yourself wasn’t just ‘not the way’, it wasn’t allowed. “Is there anyone out there who still isn’t clear about what watching punk, hyper-sexual adventure films does? Okay, last time: This is your brain. This is The Doom Generation. This is your brain on The Doom Generation. Any questions?”
“Didn’t you want James and Jonathan to just, start going at each other?”
I blanch. Having it typed in damning Times New Roman before my eyes somehow makes it both more and less scary, all at once.
I suppose… I suppose I did want that, I think. And then, for the first time, a thought unfolds in my brain: …and maybe that’s okay.
With sudden gumption, I reply: “I was basically waiting the whole film for them to do it, and I’m pretty offended that they didn’t.”
“It’s a “heterosexual” film,” my friend replies. “But his others are less so. I mean, none of them have Jonathan Schaech in them, but they’re still pretty good.”
Maybe that’s definitely okay. And hey, at least I didn’t cut off a shop assistant’s head with a machete.