Bully (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Larry Clark

My morbid curiosity.

That is why I watched this film.

Bully is based on a true story about a epynomous fellow who terrorizes his best friend, beats, rapes, and intimidates others, until in an act of group vengence, they lure him with sex to an isolated spot, where they stab and beat him to death.

I had seen the story told on one of those crappy Discovery Channel crime shows that they run on Tuesday nights. It was a compelling story, almost subversive in its high-end perversity located in a middle-class suburban neighborhood, somewhere in Florida. The brutality quotient is higher than anything that (hopefully) most people have experienced in their lives, but the “bullying” aspect of relationships is not utterly alien. In fact, the story resonates more than one would immediately think it would.

So, when I heard that Larry Clark was working with the material, it sounded interesting. He has this weird interest in the lives of young people, catching certain ugly realities of unpleasant sides of human nature.

He virtually pornographies the kids in his film, shooting lots of scenes displaying their nakedness in a dull, almost “heroin chic” style. Beauty and ugliness in one.

His camera oversexualizes them, too, shooting one scene in which a conversation is taking place between two of the girls, with the camera vying for an angle on Bijou Phillips’s crotch. It’s downright lurid.

The oversexualization seems to be both his interest and his interpretation of them. They are shallow to the point of dehumanization, almost completely lacking in self-awareness, selfishly motivated, and deviant.

How much does Clark sympathize with them while casting them in this light? It is hard to say.

Rachel Miner’s character is the organizer of the plot to kill the bully. She has been raped and beaten by him, and her boyfriend, Brad Renfro, has been beaten and bullied regularly all of his life. For her, there is no alternative solution than killing him and she is driven single-mindedly to bring about his end.

Like Kids (1995), Clark’s other disturbing film about teens, Bully paints a frightening picture of youth. But as much as Clark portrays the kids in a dehumanized light, he seems to identify with them. The full effect is a complex mixture of repulsion and vague understanding.

I don’t really know what I think of this film. Even years after having seen Kids, I am still unable to come to terms with exactly how successful of a film it was. It is beautifully shot and very effective, but depressing and sickening.

Bully is less powerful than Kids, though its source material is by far more profound and fascinating.

It’s a hard film. And it’s a hard film to have a simple reaction to.

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