Director Greg Araki made one of my favorite films of the naughts, the deeply emotional and deeply weird Mysterious Skin, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt as a teenage hustler in Kansas. That movie, incidentally, involved aliens… maybe. Six years later, Araki returned to features with Kaboom, which is a lot like Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, except better. It’s also a movie about the end of the world hinging on the actions of a strangely touched young man, but Kaboom is less somber, more full of life. In that way, it’s more like Kelly’s Southland Tales (did anybody like it besides me?), an apocalypse that had time for dance numbers and Mandy Moore repeatedly uttering the phrase “cock chuggers”.
O Mandy. You came and you gave without taking.
Thomas Dekker stars as Smith, a pansexual fancy man who wiles away the days with various forms of sex. It doesn’t seem to matter what gender his partners are, he just wants them to feel good and to feel good in return. Smith’s world is complicated by strange dreams and the kidnapping of a red-headed girl by men wearing animal masks, an event which he does not quite remember witnessing. Then a headless torso makes an appearance in a dumpster before disappearing again (as torsos do). As the mystery grows deeper, Smith’s friends and accquaintances, seemingly everyone he knows, are drawn into it with him and they begin to understand that Smith is part of something larger, and may in fact be the key to saving humanity–he’s a Christ figure in eye-liner, and who can complain about that?
Actually, yeah, you can go ahead and complain.
The energy of this film is simply wonderful; the young performers are all attractive motor mouths and manage to make a situation that would otherwise be ridiculous seem like exactly the kind of thing that happens in college all the time (they certainly aren’t going to class). Araki’s color palette is a richly saturated wonderland and, as he did in Mysterious Skin, the story mixes genre conventions in clever ways. There’s horror, thriller, borderline softcore porn, and teenage sex party comedy. Like Smith, the movie has something for everyone and the thing I appreciate most about it is Araki’s pretty blasé attitude toward sex and nudity. Yes, the world may be ending, but if that’s the case, why not have as much naked fun as possible, thank you very much? It’s a slap in the face to all the prudishness and self-seriousness that typically permeates the Armageddon set. As Peggy Lee said, “If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing.”
There is something to be said for such an ambitious film. It’s not perfect, but in some ways it’s flaws make it more interesting. Sex and Death are messy topics, and people don’t always act sensibly when they come up. Ditto for vast conspiracies and secretive cults. Because there is so much going on, tying up all the loose ends before the really big show gets started proves to be an unwieldy task. The film’s biggest problem is the exposition-packed third act, in which it seems Araki realized he needed to try and make sense of the glorious monster he’d created. Yes, everything fits together, but it fits together in a bugfuck crazy way, which may be the point. It is no more absurd that the murky endings of both Donnie Darko and Southland Tales.
By making sure every piece fits perfectly, Araki is maybe making a comment on the fundamental absurdity of intentionally trying to plot twist endings. Think about it, isn’t it sort of ridiculous that Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze? All this meta-commentary doesn’t necessarily work that well, but luckily, Araki’s got his apocalypse trump card. The final shot seems to say to us, “hey remember all that crazy shit from the last ninety minutes? Forget that, let’s throw a sexy pool party.” It’s a wonderful negation and erasure of the whole weird experiment, kind of like the end of the world would be.
What do you mean we’re standing in the world’s largest public toilet?
This is the way the world ends: not with bang, not with a whimper, but with an orgasm. Or a bang, I guess; it would depend on what you meant by “bang”. There’s a lot of sex in this movie.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time a wipe is used to transition from one scene to another.
Take a Drink: for every instance of the camera lingering lovingly on the boyishly handsome Thomas Dekker’s face. He sure is dreamy.
Drink a Shot: for every member of the animal kingdom you spot in mask form. Animal masks are creepy.