Reputedly made for a paltry $23,000 by underground LA filmmaker Gregg Araki, THE LIVING END is more admirable as a sheer technical feat of filmmaking than as a sustained dramatic narrative. It still makes worthwhile viewing, particularly for gay audiences starved of images.
No sooner has Jon (Craig Gilmore), a petulant, underemployed freelance film critic, learned that he's HIV-positive than he crosses paths with Luke (Mike Dytri), a handsome, aimless hustler who, Jon later discovers, is also afflicted with the deadly virus. Before long, and despite his better
judgment, Jon finds himself accompanying Luke on an impromptu road trip to San Francisco where Luke promises to "figure something out." In fact, Luke is on the lam, having inadvertently killed a cop back in Los Angeles.
Liberated by their death sentences, these unlikely lovers embark on a freewheeling crime spree-cum-talkfest en route to northern California, but Jon eventually gets fed up with Luke's unrelenting self-destructiveness, leading to a cathartic resolution in the middle of nowhere.
This brazenly homoerotic hybrid of BONNIE AND CLYDE and THELMA & LOUISE gets off to a promising start but, once the protagonists hit the road together, THE LIVING END loses pace, finally stalling during an exceedingly boring middle section. The film's many sex scenes, while fairly graphic, lack
credibility, partly because there seems to be an invisible sexual line that Dytri is unwilling to cross. (Whether the actor is gay or straight should be irrelevant; he's certainly handsome enough.)
The film's greatest weakness, however, is its cliche-ridden dialogue, something that only performances of tremendous authority can overcome. With the notable exception of Mary Woronov and Johanna Went as two psychotic lesbians who pick up Luke but botch their attempt to murder him, such
performances are not forthcoming. A subplot involving Darcy Marta as a platonic friend of Jon's who loves him more than her own boyfriend is also uninvolving, largely because--like Winona Ryder in NIGHT ON EARTH--Darta appears to confuse chain-smoking with acting.
THE LIVING END is not without its pleasures, however. A graduate of USC and UCLA, Araki has a keen eye for composition, and the film's visuals are consistently engaging. Araki shot the film himself, with lighting assistance from fellow LA filmmaker Christopher Munch, employing a vivid color scheme
that emphasizes blues, blacks and greens. THE LIVING END works most powerfully as an expression of rage over the ongoing catastrophe of AIDS; it's dedicated to "the hundreds of thousands who've died and the hundreds of thousands more who will die because of a big white house full of Republican
Araki, whose previous "no-budget" features are THREE BEWILDERED PEOPLE IN THE NIGHT and THE LONG WEEKEND (O' DESPAIR), is a tremendously talented filmmaker who seems destined to hit his stride in the very near future. (Violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: Reputedly made for a paltry $23,000 by underground LA filmmaker Gregg Araki, THE LIVING END is more admirable as a sheer technical feat of filmmaking than as a sustained dramatic narrative. It still makes worthwhile viewing, particularly for gay audiences… (more)