Gonzo Review: Mid 90s
An hour and twenty five minutes later the credits roll. The pizza has been reduced to scraps of cardboard consistency crust, rubber bits of cheese, and stray room temperature toppings. I sit for a moment in awe of what I just witnessed. Was it shakespearean? No. Yet, it resonated with me on a deep level, and I was unsure why.
I understood my enjoyment of the film. After all, it, like most produced by A24, was spectacular. I loved every second of it. Then again, I didn’t love every second in the way where every moment made me feel good. No, it’s more accurate to say I fell in love with the piece of art that I played out before me. This is an important distinction because even in my own writing, my art, I don’t intend for every sentence to fill you with joy. Rather, I seek to expose you to a symphony of emotional stimulation that instills within you a deeper sense of truth.
That is what Mid 90s did for me. It gave me an experience that can only be described as quintessentially true. I’ve very carefully selected that word, true, because truth is that which pertains to reality. The movie did this by accurately depicting the archetypal story of one’s integration with the shadow self via a surface level plot. That surface level plot was one of the best coming of age stories I have witnessed in a long time. In fact, I believe it is one of my favorite plots of all time. It is a staggeringly beautiful piece of melancholy genius.
The emotional elements of the film are pronounced. The writing is phenomenal, and the dialogue excellent. The characters are complex and not only change over time, but your perception of them changes as more details are revealed. The movie shows life in such a raw form. The plot has a heavy focus on pain and turmoil without resorting to distractingly extreme measures. Many modern films assume the audience too daft and incapable of accepting emotional pain as a result of anything less than tumors and rape. This film stirs sorrow via more indirect ways.
Oh god, I’m still in shock over how wonderfully complex and entertaining this movie was. I just loved it so damn much. Okay, allow me backup, gather my thoughts, and present them in a more concise manor….
Let us begin.
For starters, what is the movie about?
It is, simply, a coming of age story about an innocent youth named Stevie (played by Sunny Suljic), who discovers strength through degenerate behavior. The opening of the movie shows Stevie as a well mannered and respectful child. This is in contrast to his volatile older brother, Ian (Lucas Hedges). This drastic difference of behavior between the two brothers causes the audience to quickly perceive Ian as wicked, and Stevie as moral. It also, shows us that while Stevie is well behaved, he is weak.
As the movie goes on, we watch as Stevie degrades into more and more degenerate behavior. This begins with him taking up an interest in skateboarding. Which to be perfectly clear is not degenerate, or immoral, by any means. It’s merely the vehicle that opens him up to a new world, and that is no accident. You see, it wasn’t skateboarding itself that caught his eye. It was the people who were skateboarding that he first took interest in.
Prior to his new hobby, which he eventually does develop a genuine passion for, he watches a group of skateboarding boys cause a bit of trouble and stand their ground when confronted by a disgruntled shopkeeper. Stevie see’s strength and freedom in these boys, or at the very least he see’s character traits that he wants in himself. Stevie begins to skateboard and develops a friendship with them.
His early interactions with one of the boys, Ruben (Gio Galicia), further points out Stevie’s weakness and naivete. Ruben offers Stevie a cigarette, and instructs him not to say thank you. Effectively he’s teaching Stevie to toughen up. However, on Stevie’s way home, he rinses out his mouth and douses himself with air freshener. He still wishes to be perceived as the innocent child. This kind of double continues to go on for quite some time.
Stevie’s swearing, smoking and drinking reveal, to the audience at least, that he really isn’t an innocent child. He’s his own person with his own desires and opinions. It’s hinted at that he was never a virtuous little angle at all. In reality, his morality was little more than cowardice. He was afraid of punishment by his mother and a worse punishment at the hands of his older brother.
Eventually, Stevie’s antics catch up to him and he is faced with a situation where he can either face the lighter punishment of his mother, or he can inflict pain upon his brother in exchange for a beating. For the first time in the movie Stevie shows true courage and chooses the beating, and he takes his lumps like a champ. It is near this point in the movie that Stevie chooses to push his skateboarding skills to the limit. It ends terribly, and he is badly injured. More importantly, however, he earns the respect of his peers.
After, these events Stevie becomes bold in his attitude at home. He no longer puts up his childish moral facade. Alternately, he acts as he pleases regardless of how this displeases those around him. His degenerate behavior accelerates, as a result of his fearlessness. Eventually, chaos breaks out as his new persona places stress upon his family.
In a tender moment Ray (Na-Kel Smith), the unofficial leader of the friend group, opens up to Stevie about life. The end result of this moment is the unspoken message that total rejection of previous virtues is not the only way to be brave. Through the following scenes of the movie we see Stevie making both degenerate and upstanding choices. Stevie now acts as he believes is best regardless of how others perceive the actions. By the end of the movie Stevie has gone from false morality, due to cowardice, to boldly embracing what he believes to be best.
This Nietzsche-esque stance on moral behavior is a subtle, yet impactful element of the movie. While Mid 90s portrays themes of friendship and family strife, it’s emphasis on the development of personal values that causes this movie to be a truly thought provoking coming of age story. One which I highly recommend you view.
Moreover this is what is meant by shadow integration. The Shadow is a Jungian term referring to the rejected and often negatively perceived elements of self. Behaviors and emotions such as rage, hatred, violence, dishonesty, etc. We push these aspects of self down and ignore them. We believe this makes us moral, but it only makes us weak. True morality is not afraid of the shadow elements. The truly moral man knows the evil he is capable of and make the decision not to do it.
After this film I am beginning to think that this concept of shadow integration is at the heart of every coming of age story. It is the journey to the underworld. It is looking in the mirror and truly observing. I do not deny coming of age stories are the tales of maturing protagonists, but I do propose the question can one truly mature without facing the negative aspects of self?
When it’s all said and done, Mid 90s feels like Stand by Me and The Outsiders long lost vulgar step brother. Personally, I believe it is because of that explicit nature, I was able to perceive a deeper truth hidden within the coming of age story. Do you agree with my armchair analysis, or did I read into it too deeply? You can let me know what you think by posting on The Gonzo Press Facebook page. You can find that by clicking the Facebook link below, or by searching @thegonzopress404 on Facebook.
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