Navigating a surreal space between fantasy and reality, The Beach Bum continues the idiosyncratic vision of auteur director Harmony Korine, a director known for his strange independent features that lean on the side of experimentation. Having orchestrated a hallucinatory poetic vision of America in Gummo and extracted the hyper-reality of contemporary life with Spring Breakers, the largely overlooked Beach Bum takes Korine’s illusory career and defines it through the lead character of Matthew McConaughey’s ‘Moondog’.
Released shortly after Matthew McConaughey’s career renaissance, The Beach Bum followed the success of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, coming out at a time when the actor’s new identity was well established. 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.
Floating from scene to scene, McConaughey embodies the bohemian Floridian spirit, radiating a certain intensity and lust for life that rubs off on his surrounding characters as well as the viewers themselves. Frequently taking part in existential ramblings about the state of modern life, Moondog is a manifestation of individual pleasure and desire, warping the viewer’s impression of modern life with his convincing opinions and wild theories.
Representative of a career that had come full circle, Matthew McConaughey’s character of Moondog in Harmony Korine’s contemporary classic is a philosophical slacker and style icon, not unlike the actor’s character in his debut film Dazed and Confused. Playing the quickly-ageing jock Wooderson in Richard Linklater’s seminal film, Matthew McConaughey’s character suffuses his charm into the film, eliciting a laid-back slacker philosophy. It is this same identity, merging creative dynamism and a compelling stylistic aurora that made the actor so successful in the long run, with The Beach Bum simply amplifying a nostalgic echo of the past.
Wallowing in the delights of bad taste, sex and general debauchery, McConaughey thrives alongside a supporting cast including Snoop Dog, Isla Fisher, Jonah Hill and Zac Efron. Describing his own character as “a verb. A folk poet. A character in a Bob Dylan song dancing through life’s pleasure and pain knowing every interaction is another ‘note’ in the tune of his life,” in an interview with GQ, The Beach Bum is a celebration of the actor’s achievements to date, showcasing just how far the identity of Matthew McConaughey has come.
Threading a patchwork of hyper-real America, Korine creates a fairy-tale of the patriotic dream, one which mirrors the subversive reality that the video-game Grand Theft Auto famously presents, where Moondog is the eccentric protagonist. If Matthew McConaughey is indeed the laid back, bohemian free spirit that his characters suggest then The Beach Bum is surely his most definitive role. After all, the actor’s clearly having a good time. When Moondog utters “I just wanna have a good time, until this shit’s over, man. This life’s a fucking rodeo and I’m gonna suck the nectar and fucking rawdog it till the wheels come off,” it may as well be McConaughey speaking.