Revisiting ‘Gummo’, Harmony Korine’s raw portrayal of American childhood devoid of parental oversight
“Life is great, without it you’d be dead“
Equal parts both a celebration of pure freedom as well as of rebellious debauchery, Harmony Korine’s Gummo is an ode to chaotic senselessness in the heart of forgotten America. Just 23 years of age upon creating his debut film, Korine was bridging the gap between a boisterous childhood and a promising future career, reflected in the films balances between artistic meditation and pure subversive bad taste.
Existing in the aftermath of a tornado, Xenia Ohio looks less a place battered by the elements and more one, battered, bruised and mistreated by its childish population. Much like Lord of the Flies only if the young protagonists populated outback America and were supplied with glue and prostitutes.
What follows is a meditative drift through the ravaged wasteland, experiencing the world through small vignettes of several one-time characters and bizarre situations. Exploring the creaks, aches and squeals of an otherwise silent, deceased wasteland. It’s a disturbed fairytale, replacing a fantasy world for magical realism, led by an impoverished boy donning pink bunny ears escorting us silently through the land.
Gliding through the decayed back gardens, dirtied kitchens and stagnant swimming pool water, inhabitants hold a psyche reflected in the land itself; barren and morally void. Brothers engage in a thudding fistfight, a gang of youths pathetically trash a chair and a deluded tennis player enthusiastically trains despite his obvious shortcomings.
“My serve got faster; it increased by 8%. I can hit a ball 65 mph.”
It seems like an American dream gone wrong, where fantasies of success have resided to wither and droop, manifesting themselves within a hopeless corner of the continent. Filth and pure boredom have spread like the plague to the helpless inhabitants, forming a grisly fever dream. One scene, in particular, involving the lead character Solomon bathing in dirty water whilst eating a bowl of spaghetti, acts as a literal representation of the film’s joys in revelling in bad taste.
Exposing the most obscure corners of humanity Korine weaves a nightmarish vision of a forgotten community. A post-apocalyptic town minus any world-ending catastrophe, where, instead, hopelessness thrives.