Watching Gummo is like listening to fingernails scraping along a blackboard with Mozart playing in the background. It’s a paradox-fraught visual assault, obliterating the rules of conventional Hollywood cinema, If you gave a psychopath a camera, a production crew and $1.3 million the result might be Gummo, though it’s quite possible this is exactly what happened.
Harmony Korine (Director of Kids) weaves a web of perpetual nihilism, dancing over social taboos to craft a bleak, grimy, depraved freak-show composed of real people handpicked from his hometown: Nashville Tennessee. The film divided critics, receiving both praise and condemnation for its portrayal of the poor American underclass, or ‘white trash’ as they are affectionately known. Johnny Depp described it as “one of the most truthful pieces of filmmaking in a long time.”, even though it attracted controversy for casting people with mental disabilities in questionable roles. The film is set in Xenia Ohio, a town devastated by a tornado, that left not only widespread property destruction but created a new, almost feral class of human. Everything about the movie is filthy and disturbing, everything from the cast, the sets and the acts portrayed on screen. Gummo contains perhaps the ugliest cast of any movie, chosen for their deformities; it is hinted that inbreeding is perhaps the cause of some of the towns problems.
The tone for the movie is set within the first three minutes with the introduction of ‘Bunny Boy’ a mute teenage boy wearing a pink rabbit-eared hat, playing in a filthy litter strewn overpass with traffic streaming by below, passing the time by spitting and urinating on the passing traffic. Despite the thousands of people who drive beneath; the overpass Bunny Boy inhabits somehow seems like the most isolated place in the world, his spitting and urinating a revenge on the society that left him behind. Contrary to being random or meaningless, this first scene contains great metaphorical symbolism. Bunny Boy is the caged rabbit, trapped in the desolate, hellish Xenia while the world passes by underneath him, overcome with anger and bitterness at his impossible situation, he viciously kicks and beats the netting.
There are no main characters in Gummo, but the two the film seems to follow are named Solomon and Tummler. Solomon is a young boy who lives with his abusive redneck mother who threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t smile. Tummler is a sadistic teenage boy who lives with his father. The two engage in a variety of colorfully amoral activities, including huffing glue, killing cats, having sex with a down-syndrome prostitute and breaking into the house of a teenage transvestite, switching off the life-support machine of his catatonic grandmother.
Korine has achieved with a camera what Picasso did with a brush, painting a fantastically dark collage displaying the very worst of human nature. Gummo is the epitome of the Avant Garde in every sense of the world; the film swings uncontrollably on an abstract hinge, wildly iterating between each unrelated scene. It makes for uncomfortable viewing and is genuinely more difficult to watch than any of the Saw movies. It is difficult to judge Korine’s intention in the development of Gummo; whether it was to showcase a dark side to America that the blind patriotism of Hollywood ignores, or perhaps it provided the perfect platform to broadcast his personal prejudices by scapegoating a vulnerable section of society. Only Korine can answer this.
In summary Gummo is a film as ugly as its redneck cast. It’s disgusting, depraved, artistic, nihilistic, fascinating, exploitative, as well as being both meaningless and infinitely meaningful while maintaining a haunting beauty throughout.
- Acting: 3/5
- Direction: 4/5
- Entertainment: 1/5
- Second Viewing Value: 5/5
- Overall: 3/5
- Out of 40 speaking parts in this film, only five were played by experienced actors.
- About seventy-five percent of the film is scripted.
- The houses that were filmed in were left untreated.
- Harmony Korine was drunk during the scene with him and the midget.
- In addition to being a co-star of the film, Chloë Sevigny designed the costumes. She found most of them in thrift stores around Nashville.
- Harmony Korine and his cameraman were frequently chased out of locations by angry fathers with shotguns, who suspected them of making child porn.
(Edited by Connor Marshall)