Subverting bad taste with Harmony Korine film ‘The Beach Bum’
'The Beach Bum'
Unless Trolls: World Tour has been at the top of your watch-list since its predecessor in 2016, you may find the cinematic landscape of 2020 a little barren. The current coronavirus pandemic has forced box-office titans to move release dates and cause small independent pictures to dissipate, a downturn that has made the weekend film premiere a thing of the past. For recent releases, we have to travel back to the dreamy days of 2019, and what better film to address these odd times than that of the equally strange Beach Bum.
Like Gummo’s hallucinatory journey through small-town America, or Spring Breakers’ neon-tinged impression of hyper-reality, The Beach Bum navigates a surreal space between reality and fantasy, orchestrated by director Harmony Korine. The tale follows the eccentric Matthew McConaughey as ‘Moondog’, a poet, stoner and altogether optimist living on the Florida coastline. Embracing aimless joy and hedonism, Moondog strolls through the colourful dockyards and bars, leaving a psychedelic impression in his wake. A loose impression of a story is cobbled together as quickly as a rambling Moondog can get there, though any plot is incidental, Korine is less interested in where Moondog ends up, and more interested in his kaleidoscopic journey.
As Moondog floats from scene-to-scene, his company is welcome, though certainly intense, a live-wire energised by the equally unusual characters around him. Snoop Dog, Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence each join him along the way in increasingly outlandish scenario’s, with Lawrence’s performance as a manic dolphin enthusiast perhaps trumping the lot. Though the consequences of these interactions are often juvenile, the reasoning behind partaking in them is unusually poetic. A patchwork of hyper-real America is formed, a fairy-tale of the patriotic dream, one which mirrors the subversive reality that the video-game Grand Theft Auto famously presents.
Through Moondog’s frequent existential ramblings, what becomes increasingly clear is his own nihilistic delusion. He is an inter-dimensional figure, a manifestation of individual pleasure and desire, devoid of any social or cultural expectations. As we explore the Florida environment and effortlessly glide through conversation, the camera chops from one place to another, impossibly continuing conversations between random locations. A dreamlike landscape appears in consequence, a vibrant cauldron of activity, energised by a tireless soundtrack, presenting the coastal environment as a fantastical distortion of reality.
Just like Gummo and Trash Humpers before it, The Beach Bum wallows in its own bad taste of drugs, sex and general debauchery, though strangely it feels as though Korine has matured. The Beach Bum illuminates and questions that bad taste, exploring the nihilistic desires residing within a small corner of us all. Where Gummo explored chaos for the sake of chaos, The Beach Bum gives reason, as Moondog proclaims at the film’s conclusion: “Fun is the fucking gun, man” and maybe that’s all there is.