In the late 70s and early 80s, after the glam rock of David Bowie, et al., ran its course (see the movie VELVET GOLDMINE), punk music, originating from England and exemplified by bands such as “The Sex Pistols,” invaded America. It was a call to anarchy and rebellion that some discontented teenagers answered, in reaction to the alleged materialism and morality of the Reagan-era. Punk rockers wore torn T-shirts with rude remarks and spiked and colored their hair. The new movie S.L.C. PUNK tells the story of two youths who embrace the punk scene in the religiously conservative Mormon-run Salt Lake City in 1985.
Stevo (Matthew Lillard) and “Heroin” Bob (Michael Goorjian) hate the establishment. Stevo hates that his hippie dad became a lawyer, and Bob reacts to the problem of having an alcoholic father. (“Heroin” Bob actually takes no heroin, just tobacco, acid and alcohol since he is in fact afraid of needles.) In the early 80s, Stevo and Bob are the only two punks in all of Salt Lake, but in 1985, after cheating their way through college, they are surrounded by posers, or fake punks, and mods, hipsters and other fashion-oriented sub-cultures.
Stevo and Bob spend their summer going to parties, taking acid, listening to punk rock, creating punk rock, and especially getting into fights with neo-Nazis, who are of course pro-government and, in reality, pro-socialist, and rednecks, who they think are offensive cultural lemmings.
As the summer wanes, Stevo becomes more discontented. His father offers him a chance to study law at Harvard, which Stevo rejects instantly. Yet, Stevo questions his entire worldview when he sees his girlfriend Susan fornicating with another man. Though he recognizes they had an agreement of an open relationship, he has a pang of anger, feeling violated that someone is now accessing a person with whom he felt an exclusive relationship. Angered, Stevo beats up Susan’s male lover and realizes that with anarchy, there are no goals, and with no goals, there is no action, and with no action, there is boredom. Further attacks on his nihilistic worldview occur when he meets another woman and a person very close to him has a sudden and unexpected drug overdose.
While it explores the punk subculture and their beliefs much better than VELVET GOLDMINE did of the glam rock scene, S.L.C. PUNK quickly becomes monotonous in its self-referential musings and constant depiction of depraved acts such as fights, drug use and immoral sex. Much of the entertainment value in the movie lies in the bold-faced defiance and angry energy the main characters exhibit, but because rebellion for rebellion’s sake quickly becomes boring without exploring the object of their rebellion, namely, the establishment and the false-religious order of Mormonism, then their destructiveness becomes meaningless violence.
To the movie’s credit, major life questions are raised. Stevo frequently looks at the camera and waxes on and on, asking “What is the meaning of life?,” “Why is order necessary?” and “What is my place in the world?” At the end, when Stevo’s world seems to be crashing down, he states, “I need an answer.” Few recent movies have been so blatant in asking such important questions. Though God doesn’t become his answer, Stevo realizes that love and making yourself useful are better and more fulfilling goals than doing nothing and destroying property and those different than himself. Hence, the ending of this movie is ultimately redemptive because Stevo moves closer to the truth.
Yet, at its core, S.L.C. PUNK remains a raucous, violent, meandering party of self-indulgence. The photography is barely serviceable and the acting by the now Hollywood players, seems itself hypocritical. Well-paid actors who have worked the system portray poor, anti-establishment punks. Hence, SLC PUNKS itself is a poser, a phony, shallow examination of a meaningless existence, an empty, hollow exercise behind the colorful hair and metal-studded jackets.
Primarily a strong pagan worldview of anarchy & nihilism ultimately destroyed by a revelation of a moral order with a brief occult practice of summoning the devil; 119 obscenities, 19 profanities & some blasphemous mockery of wise men & end times theology; excessive violence including many beatings, man shot at but not struck by bullets, throwing objects against walls & mirror, shooting a car, man throws man against wall; two brief scenes of depicted fornication & some sexual humor; rear male nudity & upper male nudity; alcohol use & abuse; smoking, drug use & abuse & overdose; and, images of wounds & many rude remarks.