January 8, 2011
Trash Humpers (2010) ****
Directed by Harmony Korine
Trash Humpers (2010)- Performance art that's a brutal condemnation of those choosing to consume hatred and live as hypocrites. **** out of 5
Harmony Korine has always been the kind of filmmaker that won't appeal to mass audiences. Though I hear Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy are both tough sits, I can't imagine anything he has made or will ever make being as alienating as Trash Humpers, a movie that probably deserves to be described as performance art more than as a movie. It plays like the viewer has found an old VHS tape on the side of the road and watched it only to find seemingly incoherent acts of depravity. Yet, Harmony Korine isn't a filmmaker devoid of ideas whose only purpose is to shock an audience. He's unapologetically condemning those in America who promote hate while hypocritically cloaking themselves in normalcy and moral superiority.
Anyone who claims that Trash Humpers makes no sense is flat out wrong. Some characters are given the opportunity to ramble on, and almost always, these ramblings involve homophobic jokes and racial slurs. At one point, a man wearing a french maid's dress is reciting poetry while our three main characters, donning facial makeup to make them look elderly, throw firecrackers on the roof of what looks like a parking garage while cackling at his words. The next scene, we see that man lying in a pool of his own blood in the middle of a kitchen floor.
Harmony Korine has dealt with those people society sees as freakish in every film he has directed. One of my favorite movies of the decade is Mister Lonely, written and directed by Korine, which is the story about a Michael Jackson impersonator who goes to live on a commune with a bunch of other celebrity impersonators. It's there where he finally feels like he belongs, yet even that world is one of hardships and disappointments, especially for the Marilyn Monroe impersonator, played wonderfully by Samantha Morton. Trash Humpers spews venom at those people who would dismiss those who live in that commune (or anyone else for that matter) as less than they are.
The imagery speaks for itself in this regard. At one point, the elderly trio laugh non-stop at a chubby eight year-old boy attempting to shoot a basketball over and over again only to miss reaching the rim by at least a foot. As the title suggests, they have an odd fixation with garbage and garbage cans. They abuse dolls, while later in the film, the female elderly woman sings a real baby to sleep while tenderly strolling her in a baby carriage. They destroy televisions, pummel radios and defile mailboxes. All of this imagery clearly supports Korine's thesis that people who think they are better than he is need only look at the quality of their choices of consumption.
As a film by a filmmaker speaking out for those without a voice in our society, Trash Humpers works very well, though I doubt that anyone who needs to hear this message will seek it out and actually sit through it. Yet, as a work meant to offend and provoke, I don't think Korine succeeds quite as effectively as he think he has. Knowing the kind of film I was about to watch, I was on guard against being shocked, and as such, not once was I offended or really all that repulsed by what I was seeing. It's impossible to really engage with anyone or anything on screen, and as such, we're not witnessing human beings interacting with other human beings. Every character involved is as much of an object as the many trash cans that are utilized in unique ways. Therefore, it's all too easy to keep this movie and its message at an arms' length. Trash Humpers certainly has the audacity to be transgressive, but its execution sadly never quite gets there.
There are seeds of hate within the conservative revival that continues to dominate our nation. Fox News and Glenn Beck are winning daily in the ratings, and many of their viewers are elderly. Korine's not giving anyone a pass when he holds a mirror up to the freakishness of the beliefs by which bigots structure their lives. Of course, not everyone who calls himself or herself a conservative is a bigot, and Trash Humpers isn't aiming at those who can tolerate people different than they are. All I know is that I hope Korine never makes a documentary condemning the way I live my life. Though, if the objects of Korine's scorn in Trash Humpers are any indication, I probably wouldn't end up paying attention to his movie about me in the first place.