Gregg Araki’s 10th feature, Kaboom, is being regarded—after 2005’s critically esteemed, “mature” Mysterious Skin and 2007’s unexpectedly sweet stoner comedy Smiley Face—as a return to his early years, an old-school Araki movie.
Primarily, this means it has a playfully transgressive, boundary-breaking attitude to sex: Kaboom’s college-age characters pursue everything from bisexual MMF three-ways to autofellatio without the slightest guilt or fear, reminiscent of both 1995’s The Doom Generation and 1997’s Nowhere.
There’s also a subplot involving a lesbian witch that was salvaged from Araki’s unused MTV pilot, 2000’s This Is How the World Ends. And there’s a colourful, distinctly Arakian flair for language throughout, with euphemisms for sex such as “putting a load in the dryer” and “downloading someone’s hard drive”, and the memorable alternative to the rejoinder “Does a bear shit in the woods?”: “Does Mel Gibson hate Jews?”
Where Kaboom differs from the 51-year-old indie auteur’s early work is that the film is nowhere near as dark, compared to, say, The Doom Generation, which climaxes in a bloody assault by castration-minded jock homophobes, set to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
“When The Doom Generation premiered at Sundance, back in the 1990s,” Araki told the Straight by phone from Los Angeles, “when the movie was over, I remember watching the expression on audience members’ faces. They were, literally, like, shell-shocked leaving the theatre. When Kaboom premiered at Cannes last year, when the last shot of the movie happened, the audience started to cheer and we got this crazy standing ovation, and then after, when we were leaving the theatre, the energy was that people were ready to party. It was 2:30 in the morning, but people were very hyperactive and excited and ready to have sex and get drunk.”
Kaboom, which follows youthful film student Smith (Thomas Dekker) as he strives to get laid, fall in love, and avert the apocalypse, not only pleased audiences at Cannes, it won the first-ever Queer Palm award. “It was really awesome, in that it was its first year being given out. I’d always thought of Kaboom as this just-fun cult movie that I really wanted to do, so for our little movie to be in the Cannes film festival—we were screening in the Palais, and it was my first film in the main selection—it was such an unbelievable experience.”
The reason for Kaboom’s relative optimism “has to do with my head and my sensibility and kinda where I’m at,” Araki explained. “I’m older now. When I made the earlier movies, like The Doom Generation and Nowhere, I was much more like those characters, much more angst-ridden and confused and just a little bit adrift in the world. For me, at least, once I hit a certain age, I just found my place, and I feel much more secure and confident. And because you have a better sense of yourself, your outlook naturally becomes more optimistic.”
Araki’s optimism also owes something to the current state of the world compared to the mid-1990s. “Things obviously have a long way to go: there is still homophobia; there is still bigotry, ignorance, and all kinds of bad stuff in the world, but I think things have really changed a lot. My movies have always had a certain sexual fluidity to them, a certain kind of polysexuality.
“There’s obviously always been people like that, but I think that’s become so much more common, particularly amongst young people—people who are the age of the cast of Kaboom. The way Smith talks about sexuality in the movie is much more common today than it was back in the days of The Doom Generation—that openness, and experimentation, and the feeling that people don’t want to be categorized. The world is definitely a much different place. I’m kind of amazed!”
Watch the trailer for Kaboom.