Harmony Korine. You either love him, or you absolutely hate him, and let’s face it, it’s pretty easy to not enjoy a lot of his work unless you have a really strange taste in movies. His latest film, Spring Breakers, while being a box office success was not one with critics or audiences. Long before this, however, he made a movie that didn’t quite take 1997 by storm. Instead it was a quiet release that actually deserves a lot more than what it received, that is if you can stomach the material. This movie is Gummo.
In the town of Xenia, Ohio, life was disrupted when a tornado rips through the streets killing many and destroying the lives of many others. After a few years, people have learned to get on with their lives, but not in ways that most of society would deem to be acceptable, and what’s presented is a tapestry of life in this nearly destroyed town. These people include the young Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton) who spend the days shooting stray cats and huffing paint; Dot (Chloë Sevigny) and her sisters spend quality time together doing typical sister stuff; and Bunny Boy (Jacob Sewell) who wears pink bunny ears while going about his day peeing off overpasses and playing the accordion in public rest rooms.
Reinforcing what I said before, Gummo doesn’t really have a plot to speak of. I like to think of it as the anti-social little brother of Richard Linklater’s film Slacker. What Korine shows in this movie is a tapestry of life in this close knit, yet uncomfortably dirty and disgusting town filled with people who kill time in ways that I’d never think of. That being said, this is a pretty disturbing movie, but Korine does a good job at not making it overly disturbing so as it’s unwatchable, nor does it ever feel like he’s exploiting the kinds of people in this movie, some of which he said he hired out of Burger Kings and Wal-Marts.
The big issue that I have with Gummo is that it loses its steam a little bit towards the hour mark of the movie. I sort of wished that I could spend more time with some of the characters and less time with others. It also might’ve been a better idea to complete an arc with one group of people and then move onto another group, kind of like Linklater did. There was just a really big gap between the interesting and the boring in this movie, so when I started to get bored, I started to get really bored.
But that isn’t really what I thought of Gummo. I would never describe it as being a boring movie. I really appreciate what Harmony Korine has done making this movie. What he shows in the images, both humorous and disturbing, is a way of life that we like to think doesn’t exist, or at least are content with not paying any attention to. This isn’t the kind of movie where the characters want out of the economic situation that they are in. In fact, everyone in this movie seems very content with their lives in lower class suburbia. What the people in this movie find normal, others may find disgusting, and Korine is showing that there is no right or wrong in the matter, but more so just different points of view.
I won’t say that I really was entertained by Gummo in the traditional sense of the word, but I will say that I appreciated Gummo for everything it was worth. This is a cult classic from the ’90s that has been the bud of many arguments. Is it exploitation, trash, or art? I’d have to go with the latter more than anything else. Harmony Korine may not have the cleanest track record when it comes to his films, but in my opinion, Gummo should not be forgotten, but seen and appreciated.