Director: Harmony Korine
Stars: Nick Sutton, Jacob Sewell, Lara Tosh
About as eventful as watching someone chewing a piece of Gum…mo
I first heard about Gummo about five years ago when the good old X Factor did movie week, where the contestants have to sing songs from films. Simon Cowell chose the song ‘Crying’ for Jamie Afro from the movie Gummo. Perhaps they should’ve said from Mulholland Drive, a much more well-known film than the mysterious Gummo. All of the judges were accusing Simon of being a cheat, “Who has heard of Gummo!?” screamed Louis Walsh. Then Harry Hill’s TV burp did a hilarious sketch where he went out asking the public what their favourite film was and they all said Gummo. Like most of the viewers, I googled Gummo and discovered that it’s often hailed as one of the most disturbing films of all time.
This prompted me to watch the trailer which absolutely scared the hell out of me for some inexplicable reason. But of course as a lover of all things disturbing, I digged further and found the clip of the boy in the bath which basically haunted my every waking hour. I vowed never to watch Gummo because I knew that it would just completely destroy my life. Unlike most people I don’t find conventionally scary things scary. Daemonic possession I can deal with, ghosts, Michael Myers all don’t bother me one bit. I get scared by strange things. For example, I consider the ending to Sleepaway Camp the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. However, now I’m a big hard man I decided to finally give Gummo a watch and to my surprise it hardly bothered me at all.
It started on a creepy note with a croaky voice narrating over a load of depressing, grainy images of a hurricane-stricken town. Then a half-naked boy in pink rabbit ears appears, prancing about on an overpass whilst a hideous song about a cockerel plays over. The whole scene is mildly bizarre and sets the tone for the majority of the film. Most regular cinemagoers would quit here, however no normal goer would be sticking Gummo in their DVD player.
The problem I had with the film is that it is plotless. Not many films can get away with being episodic or abstract. Ones I enjoy (off the top of my head) are Eraserhead, Under the Skin and more recently, Mr. Turner. However, all of these films inspire extremely divisive opinions. You either ‘feel’ them or you don’t and I just didn’t ‘feel’ Gummo. Nothing of interest happens and I didn’t care for any of the recurring characters. I understand that the point of the film is that it has no point (I think) but it just doesn’t interest me. The film is basically a series of sketches with the odd character who crops up now and again. We get the odd random documentary-styled snapshot of bizarre locals, such as a blind albino woman looking for love and director, Harmony Korine feeling up a Jewish midget.
Most of the film resolves around two boys who go around sniffing glue and killing cats. They also have other meaningless adventures involving visiting prostitutes and exercising to Madge. All of this sounds far more disturbing than it actually is. There’s nothing explicit shown so you can’t accuse it of being exploitative or shocking for the sake of it, there’s not really much you can accuse it of. Surprisingly it’s actually pretty boring and aimless. Some might see some sort of high art or intrigue in it, but I couldn’t find any. I was kept glued to the screen because I was expecting something horrifically disturbing to happen any minute, but it never did.
I did still find the bath scene very disturbing though. The mise-en-scene is just so uncomfortable with the filthy walls and water. The sound of the boy eating the melted chocolate is also quietly revolting. The whole atmosphere of the film is raw and creepy, but I still can’t really see why so many people consider it so disturbing. It’s just so uneventful and ponderous. It seems like one of those horrendously pretentious arthouse films made by self-absorbed directors trying something new. It all comes down to what turns you on though. I really enjoyed Harmony’s latest Spring Breakers, but I know a lot of people hated it and it’s not difficult to understand why. Gummo is love it or hate it and I’m definitely more on the hate side. I’ll never forget it though.