A modern classic of cult indie cinema, Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation is finally coming to DVD. The tagline of ‘sex, mayhem, whatever’ lets us know what we’re in for as we are submerged in this maniacally grisly update of the ‘couple-on-the-run’ movie.
The film follows young lovers Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) and Jordan White (James Duval), who have been together all of three months (practically a lifetime for disaffected grunge kids). Trash-mouthed speed-freak Amy is Lolita’s evil twin, while her endearingly dim-witted boyfriend Jordan tags along after her like a puppy. Bored out of their alienated teenage minds, they are suddenly pounced upon by a ruggedly handsome drifter named Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech), initiating a wild road trip complete with sex, drugs and gruesome murder.
Gregg Araki is usually the first name to pop from the lips of ciné-geeks when they are asked about New Queer Cinema, a sub-genre focusing on LGBT narratives that began grabbing the attention of critics in the early 1990’s. The Doom Generation is the second film in Araki’s ‘Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy’, which also includes Totally F***ed Up (1993) and Nowhere (1997).
Araki is famous for his cheeky opening credits. His 1992 film The Living End was introduced as ‘an irresponsible film by Gregg Araki’, while Totally F***ed Up opened with ‘another homo movie by Gregg Araki’. Playing on his status as a queer cinema director, The Doom Generation is billed as ‘a heterosexual movie by Gregg Araki’. While it is true that all of the sex scenes in the film (of which there are many) are heterosexual, there is an incredibly strong homoerotic vibe throughout, a deliberate effort to throw off anyone attempting to pin down the director’s sexual politics.
In an interview filmed specifically for this release, Araki states he was trying to make ‘the gayest possible straight movie there could be’. He describes his early work as an angry response to the ‘war zone mentality’ of the nineties, which had arisen around the continuing AIDS epidemic. He also refers to The Doom Generation as ‘a reaction to cookie cutter teen movies of the time’.
You could accuse The Doom Generation of many things, but never of being ‘cookie cutter’. It is a gorily stylised comic book of a movie, full of striking images, recurring in-jokes and shocking twists that occasionally cause the viewer to question their own sanity. The trio of main characters live in a strange nocturnal world of neon Quickie-marts, burning blacktop highways and crazily kitted-out motel rooms (one is decorated entirely in shocking pink, while another is covered from floor to ceiling in black and white checks).
The atmosphere is apocalyptic. Posters and street signs bearing slogans such as ‘pray for your soul’, and the recurring number 666 point to an oncoming disaster; the eponymous doom of the ill-fated teen protagonists. The violence is extreme but also ridiculous. For example, the severed head of a Quickie-mart employee continues to talk after being shot off by Xavier, and the excruciating finale (in which the trio are attacked by a group of homophobes) is heavily staged under a strobe light, with the American national anthem playing on a portable radio.
While it is a rip-roaring road movie, The Doom Generation is not for everyone. The outrageous violence, invasive sex scenes and frank drug references price the film out of the decency market for many viewers. However, any fans of alternative and extreme cult cinema would do well to get their hands on a copy of this darkly comic rollercoaster ride.
Best performance: Rose McGowan as Amy Blue.
Best scene: Xavier shoots the head off the Quickie-Mart employee.
Best line: ‘Look, you f**king chunky pumpkinhead! I don’t know what the f**k you’re talking about!’