The Living End

USA 1992, 84 mins
Director: Gregg Araki

Contains scenes graphic violence, scenes of a sexual nature and uses of homophobic language.

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away the film’s ending.

After they’re both diagnosed with HIV, and following an act of violence, a queer odd couple take to the road with the motto ‘f–k everything’. From its tongue-in-cheek opening proclamation that describes itself as ‘an irresponsible movie’ to its nihilistic yet deeply moving ending, The Living End is pure Gregg Araki – boisterous, uncompromising filmmaking from a pioneer of New Queer Cinema.

A contemporary review
‘Fuck the world’, screams the graffiti in the opening shot of this self-styled ‘irresponsible movie by Gregg Araki’, which is dedicated to ‘the hundreds of thousands who will die because of a big White House full of Republican fuckheads’. This anarchic shout reverberates through Araki’s low-budget, high-octane film. Executive produced by Jon Jost, the guru of the no-budget movie, The Living End has an energy that belies its impoverished finances. The pace is fast-forward, and though it was shot on 16mm, its Californian sun-scalded images easily stretch to 35mm. Aesthetically and politically this is an instant film. It is immediate, desperate and intentionally disturbing, with its two HN positive heroes, lonesome cowboys for the 90s, who take to the road to get lost to an America that has betrayed them. Like Swoon and Poison, The Living End is a queer tale that makes a virtue out of the connection between homosexuality and criminality. In a rampantly homophobic culture Luke and Jon are inevitably beyond the law.

To begin with, Araki’s movie is almost playfully picaresque. The pair encounter a succession of archetypes en route, ranging from two women in an open-top Chevrolet (a manifestly lesbian Thelma and Louise) and a trio of thugs out for gay blood, to quarrelsome couples in car parks. The depiction of women is open to criticism, particularly in the case of the wife who murders her philandering husband after reminding him that the fashionably bisexual 70s are over. But she belongs with the other pop-up ciphers who are negligible in the final analysis. Besides the two male protagonists, the only other rounded character is Darcy. She is a sympathetic presence who somewhat redeems Luke and Jon, and a touchstone for the audience as the two lovers skid out of control (although the role is hardly the caricature ‘fag hag’ it has been accused of being, it is weakened by Darcy Marta’s irritatingly melodramatic performance).

Sex and death drive The Living End forward, shadowing it with a terrifying fatalism. Indeed, death is figured everywhere, from bumper car stickers to cut-away shots of wasted bodies. The studiedly morose Jon (his music heroes include such poets of angst as Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and Morrissey) writes his thesis on ‘The Death of Cinema’ in his room decorated with Godard and Jarman posters. This fin de siècle necro-romanticism suggests, a little too self-consciously, that culture is about to implode. Meanwhile, cool Luke, a James Dean manqué, taunts Jon with a ‘Live young, die young and leave a beautiful corpse’ credo. With his bare bronzed torso, his fashionably ragged jeans and cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, he represents the homoerotic ideal of hard masculinity. This iconography is echoed in the hoardings advertising Marlboro cigarettes and cowboy boots that flank the roads during the couple’s journey. The libidinous Luke endows their relationship with a remarkable sexual charge. The eroticism disappears, however, in the shockingly poignant final scene when Luke seeks ultimate abandonment in self-annihilation while telling Jon that he loves him more than life. This uncompromising and uncomfortable equation of sex with death makes The Living End a film dangerously lacking in hope, which leaves its two heroes stranded on the beach.
Lizzie Francke, Sight and Sound, February 1993

An irresponsible movie by/Directed by: Gregg Araki
©/Production Company: Strand Releasing, Desperate Pictures
With financial assistance from: American Film Institute
In association with: National Endowment for the Arts
Presented by: Strand Releasing, Desperate Pictures
International Sales: Fortissimo Films *
Executive Producers: Evelyn Hu, Jon Jost, Henry Rosenthal, Mike Thomas
Produced by: Marcus Hu, Jon Gerrans
Co-producer: Jim Stark
Associate Producer: Andrea Sperling
Written by: Gregg Araki
Shot by: Gregg Araki
Lighting: Christopher Münch
Stills: Michael Matson
Edited by: Gregg Araki
Assistant Editor: Tommy Hule
Paintings by: Beth Muehl
Props: Johanna Went
Title Design: Steven Hankinson
Titles Shot by: Mar Elepano
Negative Cutting: Karen Kennedy
Original Music by: Cole Coonce
Benevolent Music Gods [at Waxtrax!]: Matt Adell, Jim Nash
Sound Designer: George Lockwood
Sound Recording: Dave Cash, Joyce Brouwers, Jack Kofman
Assistant Sound: Marianne Dissard
Post-production Sound Remixing: Muscle & Hate Studios
Dedicated to: Craig Lee

Mike Dytri (Luke)
Craig Gilmore (Jon)
Mark Finch (doctor)
Mary Woronov (Daisy)
Johanna Went (Fern)
Darcy Marta (Darcy)
Scot Goetz (Peter)
Bretton Vail (Ken)
Nicole Dillenberg (Barbie)
Stephen Holman, Magie Song (7-11 couple)
Peter Lanigan, Jon Gerrans, Jack Kofman (Three Stooges)
Christopher Mabli (Melrose neo-nazi)
Michael Now (Tarzan)
Michael Haynes (Jane)
Peter Grame (Gus)
Craig Lee, Torie Chickering (Ralph’s couple)
J. Sidney Beswick (Buddhist)
Paul Bartel (Twister master) *

USA 1992
84 mins

* Uncredited

Tue 1 Aug 20:35 (+ pre-recorded intro by film critic Xuanlin Tham); Fri 11 Aug 20:30; Thu 31 Aug 18:10
Dog Day Afternoon
Wed 2 Aug 20:30; Thu 17 Aug 18:00; Sun 27 Aug 18:15
Chocolate Babies
Thu 3 Aug 20:30 (+ intro by season programmer Grace Barber-Plentie); Sat 19 Aug 20:50
Female Trouble
Sat 5 Aug 18:15; Thu 10 Aug 18:15 (+ intro by Justin Johnson, Lead Programmer); Fri 25 Aug 20:45
The Devil Queen (A Rainha Diaba)
Mon 7 Aug 20:40; Fri 18 Aug 18:10
By Hook or By Crook
Tue 8 Aug 20:50; Tue 15 Aug 18:20 (+ intro by Zorian Clayton, BFI Flare Programmer)
Madame Satã
Thu 10 Aug 20:40; Sun 20 Aug 12:30
Fresh Kill
Mon 14 Aug 20:40; Sun 27 Aug 13:20
The Bloodettes (Les Saignantes)
Tue 15 Aug 20:30; Mon 21 Aug 20:30
My Brother the Devil
Wed 16 Aug 20:40; Thu 24 Aug 17:50
On Guard
Thu 17 Aug 20:45; Mon 21 Aug 18:30
The Living End
Tue 22 Aug 20:40; Mon 28 Aug 14:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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