Courtesy of Academy Museum

On March 2, the Pollock Theater screened “Nowhere” in collaboration with KCSB as part of the theater’s “CWC Presents: Revisiting the Classics” series. Described as “Beverly Hills, 90210 on acid” by director Gregg Araki and released in 1997, “Nowhere” follows a day in the life of a group of teenagers living in Los Angeles as they prepare to attend a party. From the first few minutes of the beginning scene, it is evident why this eccentric movie was chosen to be screened as part of a series showcasing iconic films. 

The opening scene begins with bright blue text moving in and out of the screen, with the background slowly moving to show us one of the main characters, Dark (James Duval), masturbating in the shower. From this point, a surreal montage of Dark’s sexual fantasies starts to rapidly flash at the audience, creating a disorientating introduction to this bizarre film. 

While Araki uses acid to describe “Nowhere,” “candy flipping” is a more fitting description of what experiencing the movie feels like — it is just as erotic as it is bizarre. Most of the sex scenes have an added humourous element, such as kinks, that shock the audience. The comedic tone of the intimacy makes the film incredibly sex-positive. This can also be said about the queerness of the movie. The ensemble cast each has a different sexual orientation. For example, Dark and Mel (Rachel True) are a bisexual couple in a non-monogamous relationship. Mel is dating another girl, Lucifer (Kathleen Robertson); the film also features a gay couple as well as heterosexual relationships. “Nowhere” has representation for a variety of sexual identities. 

The movie also covers an array of topics such as sexual assault, mental illness and drug addiction and is able to depict sexuality and traumatic topics in a casual manner. The subtle discussion of these topics is ultimately what makes the movie feel so authentic. Perhaps the dialogue and set design are rather humorous, but the culture that is represented in this film is rather spot-on for being a young adult. These issues aren’t elephants in the room in dire need of recognition but rather issues that are so common within this period of life that the subtle showcasing of it is refreshing. There is no resolution in the issues being presented, instead presented in an unfiltered way to show the audience what the culture was of being a teenager in the late ’90s. 

On a production design level, “Nowhere” is a site for sore eyes. Bedroom sets have walls that reach as high as heaven, flamboyant wallpaper and bedroom decorations that reveal another layer of their respected inhibitor personality; the physical world of the film tells a story that interweaves with the main plot. 

This physical storytelling is evident in the religious undertones of the film, with signs that say “repent now” and “God save us;” this idea of religion recurs throughout the set design and dialogue, where characters have discussions about the Rapture and death. While this topic reflects the zeitgeist’s fear of entering the millennium, “Nowhere” actively builds upon this until the climax of the film, where the theme catalyzes a couple of character arcs. 

Though released almost 30 years ago, the movie is reflective of the current culture of young adults today, which allows the film to be a timeless piece of media. In many aspects, Araki was ahead of his time when directing this movie. From the soundtrack, outfit choices and even the names of the classes that the characters take (“History of Lethal Epidemics” and “Human Sexology”); “Nowhere” stands the test of time as a classic especially because many of the film’s elements are incredibly popular within the youth culture today. 

The film’s aesthetic still stands the test of time, and so does the story being told. The religious theme ties into the fear of the end of the world, discussed by numerous characters in the film. In the ending scene of the movie, Dark takes to his camcorder to record a diary log: “It’s like we all know, way down in our souls, that our generation is gonna witness the end of everything. You can see it in our eyes.” The dread that comes with the uncertainty of the world is a prominent topic in the film. Consequently, Dark’s line can be a universal feeling for Generation Z. 

Being particularly religious, sexual and existential, “Nowhere” doesn’t fail to stand out as a uniquely outrageous film. It is made with love by Araki, who appeared after the screening to discuss the movie with professor Bhaskar Sarkar. As a UCSB alum, Araki stated that his own time as an undergraduate at the university helped form his identity as a filmmaker. He accredits theories he learned in his film theory classes as being a major inspiration, with influence taken from German expressionism and the French New Wave; the homage is evident in the surrealist scenery. “Nowhere” is a film student’s love letter to the classics, taking inspiration from auteur films while adding a fresh twist to make a new classic for generations to enjoy.