Underrated: Gregg Araki’s “Nowhere”

nowhere“It’s like we all know way down in our souls that our generation is going to witness the end of everything.”

Way back sometime in late 1997 or early 1998, Gregg Araki’s film Nowhere wormed its way into my psyche, grabbed hold tight, and made me show it to all of my friends.  I was completely enthralled.  I watched it over and over again.  I dissected it, analyzed it, explored its themes, bought the soundtrack, and watched Araki’s other features.  It was easily my favorite movie for a brief period in college, and I screened it for everybody, hoping in vain for a compatriot to share and revel and delight in this overtly stylized film.  Somebody, anybody had to feel the same as I did.  Certainly one of my friends would be as captivated as I was.

They hated it.  All of them.

In fact, most of the people I talk to about Nowhere think it’s awful, a snapshot of 90’s, indie, arty-farty, style-over-substance filmmaking at its worst.  And to a degree, they’re absolutely right.  The story of alienated, drug abusing, pretty teenagers splashed with neon light and set to a shoegazing alt-rock soundtrack is a testament to short attention spans, a 90-minute music video.  Viewed on its surface, the movie is nothing more than an homage to the “whatever” culture, a parade of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll for blasé Gen X-ers to mope about to.  But maybe that’s the point.  Maybe all of the obnoxious, self-absorbed teenage exploits on display serve as an overarching critique thereof.  It’s wonderful satire.  Take that satire and add the surface themes of alienation and longing, and you get a film that critiques, sympathizes, and embodies a particular time both personal and cultural that still holds up almost 17 years later.

nowhere2 Slowdive’s “Avalyn II” plays as the film opens with a wide angle shot of protagonist Dark (James Duvall) masturbating in a steamy shower while cutaways to images and scenes of his girlfriend, friends, and acquaintances of both sexes interweave.  The tone is pretty much set from there.  Dark and girlfriend Mel (Rachel True) lay out and argue the boundaries of their relationship, Dark craving monogamy while Mel desires a more open one.  The two then go about their day with the shadow of their morning conversation hanging over them as we meet an array of supporting characters played by a slew of up and coming actors, actresses, and pretty faces (Kathleen Robertson, Scott Caan, Ryan Phillipe, Heather Graham, Denise Richards, Christina Applegate, Mena Suvari, etc).  For the rest of the day, the players binge and purge their way through bouts of sex, depression, eating disorders, nihilistic violence, gay and straight attractions and flirtations, drugs, and suicide culminating in a house party hosted by a man called Jujyfruit (Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers), each scene a mix of slang dialog, hyper-stylized set pieces, and an increasing surrealism involving an alien.

So, what does all of this mean?

To say that the characters are underdeveloped is both accurate and a disservice to the overall tone of the film.  Each individual is fairly one dimensional, but they all utilize their defined emotion to sublime effect, be it love-longing, depression, rage, insecurity, jealousy, lust, and so on.  All of the actors play such exaggerated roles, that it adds to the movie’s satirical edge, subtlety be damned.  Everything is over the top.  Everything is repulsive, annoying, and also instantly relatable, the dour faces and bored antics reminiscent of every single generation’s distaste for what came before.  These are characters that embrace the youthful obsession with doom and gloom, anarchic sensibilities, and a fascination with the end of the world.  You know?  Adolescent stuff.  Like Voltron, you could almost combine them all to create some sort of Mecha-Teenager.

You were once this way too.

nowhere3 Another one of the film’s more satirical elements is the fact that every “adult” character is played by a former television star (everyone from Charlotte Rae to John Ritter makes an appearance).  Whether or not this was meant to be a statement about a generation of kids raised by their family’s TV sets, a comment on our celebrity obsessed culture, or just a product of Araki’s penchant for showering his earlier films with famous faces, I’m not sure.  It’s probably a combination of all three.  These performances are just unsubtle as the rest of the cast’s which only serves to add to the ever present and growing surrealism that glides the film into its final act.

In the last scene, Dark has finally found some semblance of comfort in his friend Montgomery (Nathan Bexton).  Dark just wants to be loved, as indeed every other character in the film does.  Every action and reaction from the last 80 minutes of screen time defends this notion.  Regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or history, everyone just wants to be loved.  Everyone just wants to be accepted by someone.  Everyone wants a reprieve, however brief, from the loneliness we all experience.  And Dark gets that reprieve…until Montgomery suddenly goes into a coughing fit and then explodes into a splattering of blood and flesh, revealing a giant cockroach creature who says, “I’m outta here,” and goes scurrying out the open window, leaving a bewildered Dark to face the audience, wide-eyed and blood soaked.

Roll credits.

I love this movie.  That being said, it is not for everyone, but if you’re feeling down for an oddball little feature, and what is arguably the best of Araki’s “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” (sucks to you Totally Fucked Up and The Doom Generation), then you should check it out.

And one last note: Nowhere has a pretty diverse cast.  Characters of different race, gender, and sexual orientation are all presented in a no frills kind of package.  No big deal is made about interracial or homosexual relationships.  They’re just accepted as the norm.  I’m not sure if that necessarily means anything significant.  I’m just saying.

Unfortunately, this fine film never made the transfer to DVD or Blu Ray, so you’ll have to procure an old VHS copy if you can find one, unless some kind soul is pirating it on Youtube.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

One Response to Underrated: Gregg Araki’s “Nowhere”
  1. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Great piece. I’ve never seen this film but Gibby Haynes is a sell for me for sure. And Araki, well I am largely unfamiliar with his work in general. I saw Doom Generation maybe ten years ago for the first time and it didn’t do to me what I had been led to believe by the person who lent it to me. I’ll have to try and find a copy of this and give it a try: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfcvW1lnBQk

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