Jefery Levy’s “S.F.W.” (1995): Media Exploitation & Nihilism

SPOILERS!

S.F.W. is Jefery Levy’s 1995 film, based on the book by Andrew Wellman.

Personally, I feel the 90s are an underrated decade in terms of music and movies, although typical stoner flicks rightfully won’t appeal to everybody. However, while S.F.W. does have a wonderful soundtrack (Hole, Soundgarden, Radiohead, GWAR,) and a Kevin Smith-appeal with its style and attitude, it also holds a more powerful message than what is usually captured in the average 90s’ film.

Incase you’re wondering, S.F.W. stands for “So Fucking What,” the catch-phrase of the film and of main character Spab (played by Stephen Dorff.)

Spab is an average teenager who gets lured into a liquor store to be captured by mysterious men in white suits, who proceed to kill several of the other hostages. Although the movie never gets into the details why, the captors demand TV networks to release footage taken of the captives over a period of 36 days. At the remainder of this period, Spab’s best friend happens to retrieve a gun, and a shoot-out ensues, which leaves Spab’s best friend dead (Jack Noseworthy) and the rest of the captors dead.

The movie essentially takes place when Spab and his female companion (Reese Witherspoon) are able to escape, only to realize their tormented situation has been broadcasted nationwide, and the world now views them as celebrity heroes.

S.F.W. essentially is a character study on how the American media uses the violent and terrible events of a person’s life in order to spin a profit. Spab, while certainly having moments where he enjoys the perks of being a celebrity, can’t shake the emotional trauma he’s witnessed, and doesn’t seem to grasp why this ordeal has turned him into a hero. The only person he relates to is Wendy (Witherspoon,) as she knows that what they went through is an experience that can’t be dissected through a TV screen.

Like Natural Born Killers, and virtually every film that’s been made about serial killers, S.F.W shows the absurd process of how pop culture trends an icons are born, which is almost always at the expense of the people involved.

Underneath this obvious theme of media exploitation, however, is a movie about nihilism. “S.F.W.” in itself is a saying that expresses life without meaning or value. With death looming at any possible moment, the captured Spab used this phrase to piss off his captors, showing them that he wasn’t afraid of death because he had nothing to live for anyway. When he escapes, he’s stunned to see how his words became prophetic to the American people, who in turn begin to live their lives as nothing mattered. In the end, Spab realizes that there are things in life that do matter.

I’ve never read the novel this was based on, so I can’t comment on which was better. However, I felt this film was a uniquely edgy portrayal of a common subject matter, with Dorff being well-cast as a lost soul who needs to find himself in the midst of two common American dilemmas: tragedy and fame.

The film also stars Jake Busey, Joey Lauren Adams, Pamela Gidley, David Barry Gray and Tobey Maguire (as a hilarious stoner kid.)

(Interestingly, the director attempted to get Kurt Cobain to do a rough cut of “All Apologies” for the film, as Cobain apparently enjoyed it. However, Kurt died before anything official could be put in place.)

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