Teenagers are no good. Millennials? They spend so much time online they don’t even bother having sex any more. Generation X was “The Whiny Generation.” This theme is so timeless that journalists have been labeling teenagers as entitled little shits since the 1900s.
I like how River’s Edge does it. The movie’s from 1986, when hippies who protested Vietnam are old enough to be teachers. Here’s what Mr. Burkwaite tells his bored students: “We stopped a war, man. We took to the streets and we made a difference. We turned public sentiment around and we made people see the truth… As crazy as it all seemed, there was meaning in the madness. There was a clear and a real purpose.”
The kids absolutely do not understand. One responds “Wasting pigs is radical, man.”
This is a bizarre, unique movie that begins with a classic thriller device: a dead girl’s body. But there’s no mystery. The killer, Samson, sits beside his victim, smoking. He goes to school, where his friends are debating how to get beer, and confesses. He takes them to the body. They all knew her, but no one really cares.
The cast includes three iconic ’80s teenagers: Ione Skye (Say Anything), Crispin Glover (Back to the Future), and Keanu Reeves (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure). Diane Court, George McFly, and Bill were sweethearts; there are no sweethearts in River’s Edge. Their characters never answer when asked how they feel, because they don’t. They get drunk, high, have sex, even kill. But they don’t feel.
The ex-hippie teacher flips out toward the end. He asks Clarissa (Skye), “Are you upset, Clarissa? Are you? If you are, get it off your chest.” She stays silent, and he gets mad at the world: “You don’t give a damn! I don’t give a damn!” (“Are we gonna be tested on this shit?” someone asks before the bell rings.)
But Feck cares. Played by Dennis Hopper, Feck is troubled by these kids, and takes action. He’s the sort who understands them: a crippled, loner drug dealer, who murdered his girlfriend and replaced her with a sex doll.