A decade of optimism and experimentation, the 1990’s, and specifically 1999 saw films both mainstream and independent, lash back at the status quo.
The structure of low-budget filmmaking was turned on its head with the release of the Blair Witch Project, while themes of rebellion from a disenfranchised middle-class were explored in Fight Club and Office Space. Commercialism was soon to rear its gruesome head at the turn of the century. Justin Kerrigan, then a 25-year-old student looked to provide a remedy; Human Traffic an ode to the optimism of youthful exuberance.
Kerrigan’s impression of the adolescent transition was a sentiment shared by many. A struggle to mentally develop from the fleeting joys of youth to the mounting responsibilities of adulthood. Human Traffic follows a group of young ravers in Cardiff as they prepare for, experience and wind down from a defiant night out clubbing. It’s a snapshot of youth culture at the precise point at which youth would want to be judged, the weekend. As any other time of the week, they are playing characters, robots of their day jobs, acting like “C-3PO, to any twat that wants to descend to us” as John Simm’s ‘Jip’ passionately preaches.
As the weekend takes hold, they embrace their identity, becoming almost manically excitable and absently rebellious. Following the wistful ‘Jip’, Danny Dyers ‘Moff’ and the rest of the group feels like a look over the shoulder for many. A reflective narrative that embraces what made the cheap thrills of youth so enjoyable. Though for Kerrigan it was a short lived experience, just 25 at the time of filming, this is a student film with a budget a creative graduate could only dream of. Where films of youth culture are usually created by those wistfully recalling their past, Human Traffic is a rare film from the horse’s mouth, a direct message from 90’s youth to the working establishment.
As is the reality of such an age, Kerrigan throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. A recital of a reworked national anthem. Several crude scenes of a boss psychically expressing their dominance over their workforce. A frank breakdown of ‘spliff culture’. It’s an ode to blissfully confident experimentation, that feels genuinely honest, if admittedly whimsical. It results in a strange amalgamation of both film and student performance, with asides to the camera and intermittent ‘sketches’ expressing the dissatisfaction of youth to an almost stereotypical degree. The result is a film that is terrifically and unapologetically of its time, energetic and defiant to whatever ‘human traffic’ steps in the characters’ way.
One of those critics was the late Roger Ebert, who scathingly criticises the youth of the film, stating: ‘“They possess, for the time being, youth. It is their only capital, and when it is spent, they will lead the rest of their lives empty-handed. They’re sheep marching into the slaughter of middle age.”
As much criticism as it is a genuine, if cynical, view of the youth in the film, Ebert is undoubtedly correct. Though the point is missed. This is less, a depressing and pathetic youthful defiance against the inevitable, and more an embrace of the present. A realisation of one’s unique position, where responsibility is far from view and future prospects are paused.
As the group make their way back from hours of clubbing the sun rises to a new day and they return to their lives of monotony. The cycle of the weekend has come full circle, until of course the next weekend. This is youth coming to the end of its life cycle, though they don’t want to admit it and why should they.
The months following the film’s climax are familiar to most of us, as the fast life becomes slower and slower, the face of a ‘night-out’ transforms into something far more tranquil. Human Traffic becomes an ode to the fleeting joys of a night out, where new relationships are born and quickly die and conversations which meant so much drift off in the fog of cigarette smoke.