Kids 20 years later: Kids Commentary on Rape
I never saw Kids when it first came out in 1995. Living in New York shortly after college in the late 90s, however, I was familiar with the power couple Harmony Korine and Chloe Sevigny and with Rosario Dawson, who graced the cover of Bomb magazine. People said Kids was a disturbing movie about kids having sex, but that was generally all people felt comfortable saying.
To commemorate the movie’s 20th anniversary, I finally got around to watching it, and I have to say the movie is much more than a movie about kids having sex. The movie is about rape.
And the lack of discussion on the film’s insights on this issue are reflective of our continued problem with calling young people out on rape, for example as happened at Steubenville and in the gang rape of Rehteah Parsons.
Yes, the final rape scene, included on many Best of and Worst lists, is troubling. It is troubling not only because it’s rape, and not only because the male character will unwittingly contract HIV. It’s troubling because Casper doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong. As he peels off Jenny’s underwear and mounts her, he whispers, “Shh. Shh. It’s me — Casper. Don’t worry,” as if it’s okay he’s raping her, because they know each other.
Up to that point, Casper has not shown himself to be an exactly upstanding individual. He has shoplifted from a Chinese grocer, peed on a sidewalk, and partaken in the beating of a black man that nearly (or possibly did) killed the man, but the movie also makes sure to show flashes of the boy’s humanity. When a subway street musician and his strange, dancing sidekick play a song, Tully and Casper look on blankly. Based on all the profanity that has spewn from their mouths thus far, the viewer fully expects them to berate the street musician, but that’s not what happens. Rather, Casper says, “Man, this guy’s really good, yo!” In the midst of their decrepit lives in the bowels of the NY subway system, these two callous boys are moved. The movie makes a point of telling us they have a heart.
Moments later, when a black panhandler with no legs wearing the t-shirt “Kiss me, I’m Polish” makes his way through the subway car, we again expect the boys to spit at him or curse him for bothering them. Rather, Casper pulls out the few coins in his pocket and gives them to the man. So Casper has peed on the street and stolen a beer he couldn’t have bought legally because he was underage. Casper is not the villain that Tully is. And yet in this final scene, it is Casper, not Tully, who is guilty of the worse crime.
While the final rape scene with Casper is deeply disturbing, I would say there is another equally disturbing rape scene, and the fact that this scene is not widely regarded as a rape scene is troubling. In this scene, Tully has successfully wooed the object of his affection, Darcy, a pretty 13-year old girl he’s been eyeing. She has agreed to spend the night with him at Casper’s house. Tully brings Darcy into the softly-lit bedroom and using the same lines he has used on another girl earlier that day, improbably gets her to have sex with him.
“But I’m scared, Tully,” she says, trying to end things diplomatically, but Tully plows forward with his plan. “I don’t want you to hurt me,” she says. “It won’t hurt, I promise,” he says. Soon, they begin to have sex, but even as the girl tells him repeatedly, “It hurts! It hurts!” Tully continues.
A word to the young men out there who are wanting to ratchet as much sexual experience as they can get: When a girl tells you “it hurts”, you need to pull out. Why? Because it is no longer an act of mutual gratification but self-gratification at the expense of some else’s pain, and you have just gone into an ugly, ugly place, the place of child molesters and, well, rapists.
That this scene is not widely recognized as a rape scene is troubling and points out the murky gray space of acquaintance rape. Yes, the girl appears to have consented. But was she coerced into having sex? Yes. Did she want to have sex? At that point, no. And yet no one from Roger Ebert to Janet Maslin felt this rape was important enough to identify in their review, a lack of commentary that gets to the heart of the date rape issues on college campuses, with cocky, immature boys just wanting to finish their ejaculations.
The two rape scenes are beautifully foreshadowed by several scenes of girl begging boys off of them. In one scene at the pool where boys and girls are swimming in their underwear, one of the boys asks the girls to kiss him. “Just one kiss”, he begs, and he presses himself to her, but the girl, a little older and wiser than Darcy, says emphatically “I don’t want to kiss you”, making her boundaries clear. Casper, our good guy, doesn’t push things sexually, but continues flirting with the girls by launching one off his shoulders into the pool.
Some have said the movie is a classic because it presents a pre-Internet, pre-Giuliani NY about teenagers that is not Clueless. These are not reasons a movie becomes a classic, however. Kids is a classic, because, despite it being created by self-proclaimed amateurs, the movie is well-crafted.
After the opening scenes in which we are introduced to the key players and their lives, the movie hones in on a clear, compelling conflict: Jenny needs to talk to Tully, to tell him he has AIDS and/or berate him for giving it to her. Tully meanwhile plans to deflower another virgin that night. These twin desires make for a tight, clear, suspenseful plot line with Jenny coming ever closer to finding Tully, Tully coming ever closer to bedding his victim. Will she intervene in time? Will she save the next girl?
In the end, Jenny does get there, just as Tully and his girl are in the midst of having sex, but, in a frustrating plot twist also worthy of discussion, she says nothing. Did she figure Tully had already infected the girl and there was nothing more to say? Did she not want to be impolite and interrupt the couple? Was she too drugged out to speak? Why the heck would she not spit out what she’d been wanting to say over half the movie: Tully, you have HIV! Get the fuck off the girl!
I offer these thoughts here, because, yes, Kids is a disturbing movie, but the twisted mindsets of the characters need badly to be talked about, because the teenage shenigans depicted continue to take place among the teens today who are just trying to navigate the fun, potentially-awkward, potentially embarrassing, hugely consequential world of asserting their desires.
Though the film borders on pornography, the film is well worth watching on college campuses to initiate discussion on the gray area of acquaintance rape.