A signal film of the New Queer Cinema and a milestone of American independent cinema, The Living End is a bracingly angry road movie that divided audiences and set off protests at theatres in gay communities around the United States. Jon (Craig Gilmore) is an adrift film critic who has just learned that he is HIV-positive; meanwhile, hot hustler Luke (Mike Dytri), also HIV-positive, steals a car from serial killer lesbians and murders three gay bashers before jumping into Jon’s car and changing his life. The duo’s steamy, kinky and brazenly unprotected sex spirals into a criminal rampage as they embark on a hedonistic, cross-country death trip. Infused with the radical politics of ACT-UP and frustration with government inaction around the AIDS crisis, The Living End troublingly and provocatively marries activism to nihilism within its indescribable genre mash-up, transitioning from “a curious mix of Dr. Strangelove humour and [the] campy horror of a giant insect movie” (Roy Grundmann) to a heartbreaking reimagining of Antonioni and Camus on a desolate California beach. –TIFF
Shown in the Panorama section of the Berlinale in 1992, Gregg Araki’s gay road movie The Living End has become a classic example of queer new wave cinema that is also an enduring record of the post-punk era.
The film’s first image – the words “fuck the world” scrawled on a graffiti-covered wall – is an apt description of the frame of mind of the film’s two protagonists Jon and Luke, two HIV positive men. Luke is a sexy drifter; Jon a disoriented novelist who has just found out that he is virus positive. Both are stuck in Los Angeles, a city that seems cold and hostile and full of serial killers who seem to have it in for lesbians; a city of twisted characters, hysterical spouse murderers and dangerous homophobes.
Jon and Luke meet by chance and begin a stormy love affair. Then Luke in advertently kills a cop and the pair goes on the run. In San Francisco someone they considered a friend slams the door in their face. And so, with no destination and no idea where to go, they embark on an odyssey replete with sexual excesses that takes them through the existential void that calls itself America. –Berlinale
One of the angriest, most unconventional, and relentlessly intriguing voices in independent cinema, filmmaker Gregg Araki emerged on the film scene with the subtlety of a gunshot to the head with The Living End in 1992. His story of two HIV-positive gay lovers on a highway rampage quickly established him as one of the key figures in the “New Queer Cinema.” The film reached out to many of society’s more alienated members—gay and straight—who related to its energetic rage and identified with the anger of its principle characters.
Of Asian-American heritage, Araki is a native of Southern California. After attending film school at the University of Southern California—where he was particularly influenced by screwball comedies such as Bringing Up Baby— he made his directorial debut in 1987 with Three Bewildered People in the Night. With a budget of only $5,000 and using a stationary camera, he told the story of a romance between a video artist, her lover… read more