Ken Park 2002
18 | 1h 33min | Drama | 31 August 2002 (USA)
Ken Park focuses on several teenagers and their tormented home lives. Shawn seems to be the most conventional. Tate is brimming with psychotic rage; Claude is habitually harassed by his brutish father and coddled, rather uncomfortably, by his enormously pregnant mother. Peaches looks after her devoutly religious father, but yearns for freedom. They’re all rather tight, or so they claim. But they spend precious little time together and none of them seems to know much about one another’s family lives. This bizarre dichotomy underscores their alienation # the result of suburban ennui, a teenager’s inherent sense of melodrama, and the disturbing nature of their home environments.
Anyone who finds pornography disturbing will find “Ken Park” disturbing for both the wrong and the right reasons.
Its not pornography, but it will be confused with it easily since it contains many of the same powerful ingredients: nudity and explicit sexual behavior. What separates it from pornography is that “Ken Park”‘s intent is not to arouse but to provoke an emotional response by placing these same powerful ingredients within a troublesome relational context. Unfortunately that’s also the problem with “Ken Park”.
An average viewer can’t witness explicit sexual behavior and be unaffected by it. We are all sexual (mostly) and (most of us) respond to visual stimuli. “Ken Park” demands that the viewer suspend that response, look beyond any arousal or outrage generated from the explicit sexuality and focus on the relationships in the film (of which sex is merely the expression). This asks of the average cinema viewer much more sexual maturity than most films ever hope to ask.
We may demand more pressure on the envelope as a viewing public, but the cumulative effect of pushing the envelope is still in the realm of speculative sociolology. Also, the extreme youthful appearance some of the characters in the film will cause some companies to avoid distribution risks. Free speech is one thing; defending accusations of spreading pedophilia is quite another, and few companies can afford that kind of publicity.
Personally, I think that the Clark and Lachman have made a great film; its a moral and compassionate statement. The characters feel very real; in their banality there is real pathos. In fact, the bland dialogue and delivery explains why sex holds such a powerful lure for these kids. They have access to rare delight and comfort with sex and, weirdly enough, a sense of peace. It rings true. The tragedy plays out that they are all compromised by clueless or pathological parent figures and the sexuality reflects a history of thwarted attachment. The final scene with the three main characters together struck me as very bittersweet since it plays more as a fantasy than a likely scenario.
Art enjoys such a complex, troubled relationship with the American public. We are such a rapidly changing audience with a huge appetite for challenge, yet we don’t necessarily absorb the changes we witness. As an audience, we expect far more cultural sophistication than our capacity for balanced interpretation. “Ken Park” is evidence of that.
Directors: Larry Clark, Edward Lachman (as Ed Lachman)
Writers: Harmony Korine (screenplay), Larry Clark (based on stories and characters by)
Stars: Adam Chubbuck, James Bullard, Seth Gray