Korine’s director, Larry Clark, famously said they were trying, with Kids, to “make the Great American Teenage Movie, like the Great American Novel.” They succeeded, in the sense that the film’s absent moral arc leaves it open to infinite interpretation. Whether that was by design or not (plenty of people think Korine is a hack; his 2013 Spring Breakers, an updated nod to Kids, was as polarizing as the film that put him on the map), it’s the film’s legacy. You get out of Kids what you put in. It’s your anxiety, your disgust, your perverse excitement that gives the movie its lasting strength.
So! For me, a 21-year-old with an undiagnosed clinical depression who had, until 90 minutes earlier, been absolutely intent on moving to NYC, the experience was sorta like drowning in a pool while my friends & family sat on the edge, obliviously sipping lemonade. In a life of relative privilege & comfort, it was undoubtedly my scariest moment at the time.
For hours, I wrestled with the fact that I’d have to give up on my plans before I even began. I had a job offer in Denver (not writing), and even though I had no interest -- in the job, or in Colorado generally -- I was crushed with the overwhelming sense that I had to take it. New York was no option. It's not what I thought it was. My dream of moving to the city, writing, becoming Relevant and Famous and Not-Boring... the movie took a brick to all that. That only made the despair seem more decisive. I cannot move to New York. I can't. I was stuck on the futon, and my own projections on Kids put me there.
I live in NYC now. I have for the past five years. I eventually pulled myself together that night (or maybe it took me a few days, or weeks), and decided Denver was a horrible place full of weird weather and too-happy people. I got over it, and once I did, NYC's gravitational pull got ahold of me once more. I faced my fears! But this isn’t about overcoming adversity. "Like Kids, New York City is hard on you, but they both make you stronger.” No. That’s not the moral of the story. Like Kids, there is no moral of this story. There are just two personal truths.
First, I remain utterly terrified of returning to that place on the futon. Though it's far from the only trigger that put me there, Kids is one of the most memorable. Irrationally, that's the one I've chosen to avoid at all costs. This probably isn’t terribly healthy. (Contemporary wisdom advises "exposure" to your emotional albatrosses, to keep them manageable instead of allowing them to grow.) Then again, everyone has weaknesses, and this is one of mine.
Second, I was wrong to trust my childhood vision of the city, but I was also wrong to assume Korine's was any more real. The NYC of Kids isn’t real. Maybe it was at one point; maybe it was all a myth invented to sell the world another Zoo York T-shirt. More likely, it was somewhere in between. “Only ‘90s New Yorkers Will Remember...,” or something. No matter how much I hate it sometimes, today’s real-life NYC is full of soaring beauty and incredible people.
Depression, on the other hand, is real, and we don’t talk about it enough. So if you’re like me, and find yourself desperate to crumple onto the nearest couch at all hours of the day, don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t be ashamed. Seek help.
Also, I’d skip watching Kids. That’s up to you, though.
Dave Infante is a senior writer at Thrillist. Follow @dinfontay on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.