It's one of the best and most controversial movies ever made about the teenage experience.
The first scene of Kids (1995) shows Telly, a New York City teenage boy, in bed with a girl who looks, at most, 14. As far as make out scenes go, this one is pretty graphic: you see and hear everything, and it feels like it’ll never end. After some time, they stop, and Telly starts sweet-talking his way into having sex with the girl, who tells him she’s a virgin.
For a veteran deflowerer like Telly, this is a piece of cake. He knows exactly what to tell her to convince her. He looks her in the eye and tells her he loves her, and then the scene cuts to him panting and sweating on top of her, as she cries out in pain. There’s nothing even remotely sexy or appealing about the scene. You just feel sorry for the girl, who’s clearly not enjoying herself, and also for Telly, who has no idea who he is, what he’s doing, or why he’s doing it.
To say that Kids is not an easy movie to watch would be an understatement. The movie, directed by Larry Clark and written by Harmony Korine, is without a doubt one of the most controversial and disturbing movies of the last 30 years. It follows a group of teenagers as they go about their day in New York City, and it’s so realistic it almost feels like you’re watching a documentary. Its realism is due to Korine’s writing (he was 19 at the time) and also the actors, who were all real teenagers who lived in the city and had never acted before (Rosario Dawson and Chloë Sevigny got their start as actresses in this movie). For some people, actually, the movie is too realistic, and any artistic value it might have is overshadowed by its rawness.
The reason why it still shocks people is that it shows teenagers who look like normal, everyday teens exploring and experiencing things that are still very much taboo in our society. The teens in Kids have a lot of sex (unprotected, of course), do a lot of drugs, and experience things that some adults might never even see in their lives. And the way the movie depicts these things is extremely open and explicit, something that led the movie to be rated NC-17 in the US when it first came out (it was later distributed as unrated). Of course, explicit sex scenes and teenage actors is not the best combination, so many critics accused Clark and Korine of exploiting the actors for the movie.
However, some of the actors themselves have come forward and spoken out years after the movie came out, defending Clark and Korine, and assuring that they never felt uncomfortable while they were filming the movie. In fact, they say they had a great time because most of them knew each other before the movie and also knew Korine, so filming was just like hanging out like they always did. This aspect is one of the things that Clark and Korine wanted the audience to feel when they watched the movie: the sense of unity, friendship, and community that the actors felt. And the truth is that, if you can look past the sex, the drugs, and the cringe-inducing dialogue, you will see that the movie is actually about those “kids” and their world in the streets of NYC, unsupervised, unrestrained, and completely free.
This iconic movie changed cinema and popular culture forever, and it is without a doubt one of the best movies about adolescence and growing up ever made. If you're interested in more revolutionizing movies, check out these: