The Doom Generation | QFest St. Louis 2023

Road movies are a staple of American cinema, but you’ve never seen a road movie quite like Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation, first released in 1995 and being screened at QFest this year in a 4K restoration. A title card identifies it as “A Heterosexual Movie by Gregg Araki” but that’s pure misdirection: a more apt description might one be “A Sexual, Violent, and Visually-Striking Movie by Gregg Araki”.

When we first meet them, Amy Blue (Rose McGowan in her second film) and Jordan White (James Duval in his fourth) are leading bored, pointless, angry lives in LA that seem to consist primarily of raves, drug use, and sex in automobiles. Rather by accident they save a drifter named Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech) from a violent beating. He turns out to be even more rude and foul-mouthed than Amy, and she quickly kicks him out of their car. But you can’t defy fate, and the three join forces after Xavier saves Amy and Jordan from a shotgun-toting convenience store clerk. It’s a sequence so ridiculously violent as to be funny, and not the last time horror and comedy will occur together in this film.

Nothing seems real in The Doom Generation—the acting is stilted, the dialogue ridiculous, the sex never-ending and the violence ever-present—which is exactly what Araki intended. There’s lot of repetition, from the trio’s purchases always coming to $6.66 to a series of men claiming Amy is their own true love and they’re going to take her back, violently of course. There’s also lots of references to other movies, the most obvious of which is how Amy is styled to look like Uma Thurman’s character from Pulp Fiction, which came out the previous year. This film may not make much sense, but it’s never dull, and Araki finds (or creates)  lots of visually interesting locations. The costume design by Catherine Cooper-Thomas and the production design by Therese DePrez are both outstanding in a low-budget sort of way—every visual element communicates something, and the simple pleasure of looking at them helps to keep you engaged, particularly in this new restoration.

Araki was clearly out to shock in The Doom Generation, and that’s my best guess for why he includes a grossly stereotypical Asian American shopkeeper named, I kid you not, Nguyen Coc Suc (Dustin Nguyen), and his wife (Margaret Cho). The shopkeeper and wife are involved in a key plot sequence but could have been named anything and could have been of any nationality. It’s also possible that since Araki is Japanese American and may have decided that the principle “Jews can make Jew jokes” applies in this case, but I suspect he knew he was breaking a taboo.

Expecting The Doom Generation to be a conventional movie will inevitably lead to disappointment, so beware: trying to evaluate this film by comparing it to more mainstream Hollywood fare may result in you sounding like Roger Ebert on his crankiest day (predictably, he hated it).  | Sarah Boslaugh

The Doom Generation will screen at the Hi-Pointe Theatre on May 6 at 8:30 pm as part of QFest St. Louis 2023. Single film tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid current photo IDs. Further information is available from the festival web site.

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