FUCK THE WORLD!
Greg Araki, “The Living End”: [an irresponsible movie] (1992). Both HIV+, Jon – a pessimistic movie reviewer – and Luke – a borderline psychotic wanderer (to be modest) – take a road trip across the states. Filled to the lip with violence, alcohol, sex, and just really, really poor decisions, the duo’s embodiment of the opening phrase “FUCK THE WORLD” becomes something of comedy. While a vital move in bringing the immediate issue of HIV/AIDS to the mainstream with support for an LGBT community through that lens, “The Living End” also embodies a significant amount of rage and pain felt by many who were abandoned during the AIDS crisis. More than a tribute, the exaggerations of this film manifest the raw emotional anguishes likely faced by many of the LGBT community, especially gay men.
Jon’s rather ordinary life is immediately disrupted by his positive HIV test and Luke (another HIV+ man with a known kill count of at least 3). We are immediately immersed in a seeming binary of extremes for those diagnosed with HIV: try to continue living as normally possible, or take life by the balls in light of an untimely and inevitable end. Faced quite literally with the end of living, Luke persuades Jon through multiple means (seduction, coercion, intimidation) to explore the latter alternative. Jon complies and indulges himself, with continual reluctance as he constantly keeps in touch with his best friend and primary support Darcy – who even then seems rather helpless in the ordeal despite her best efforts. Jon is thrown back and forth between Darcy’s pleading for him to come home, and Luke’s exhilarating (and criminal) antics.
So yes, there are moments of humor, at Jon’s complete oversights of Luke’s violent side in favor of his sweet and sometimes deviant sexual behaviors (public nudity/sex, choking at climax). However, we’re still left with Jon’s sense of apathetic loss of direction as he constantly asks “Why,” and Luke’s senseless disregard for any aim whatsoever, attempting suicide at sexual climax to avoid the slow decay of disease. Too bad, they figure, they were not born sometime later after the seeming invention of “safe sex.” Yet this was the places thousands of people found themselves in while a presidential administration turned away.
Many tried to just keep on living, something more akin to Sir Ian McKellen’s character from “And the Band Played On”, although a diffusion of enjoyment of life towards cynicism, depression, and apathy are unsurprising if not expected. Luke offered an excitement for Jon, a means to live life to the fullest with what little was left, so much so that he abandons possible treatment (as if he could have afforded it). Conversely we have Luke, who has been so pushed to the edge every day of his life is a fight to survive. People of all sorts of crazy and ignorant come out to kill him on the premise of perceived sexuality (Luke having that “something” that marks him as gay in the time period; never mind the disease is slowly destroying his immune system too). Rage of all sort manifests with Luke, for his illness, for the hate he receives, for the end he can do nothing to stop or put off. And it burns out at some point, leading him to rape and suicide. So for as much as there might have been a laugh at Jon’s reaction to all of that, from a slap across the cheek to a deep, passionate kiss, there’s also a terrifying truth to it. There is a necessity for presence, real understanding.
It’s not that Darcy didn’t mean well trying to help Jon keep life “together,” but life couldn’t be that way after his diagnosis; nor is Luke’s wild ride of liquor, guns, blood, sweat, sex, and more a means of fulfilling what’s lost with the acquisition of the virus. To have someone there, to hold, to love, in the dark final hour, it was worth it for Jon. He pleads with himself all the time, “Why,” why does he stick around with some psycho rather than go back to his normal life. He was truly displaced and, on a macro scale, abandoned. The actions of the LGBT community and allies during and immediately after the AIDS crisis deserves applause, such that Luke’s rage was not widespread, but rather efforts were made to educate and learn more about the virus and means of caring for people. It could seem appropriate, only in the progress of history where HIV/AIDS is no longer equal to death, that we can take a camp look at the ordeal and just how sensible it would have been to take a rampaging road trip when the people with the means to help didn’t give a fuck.