Sound and Fury: ‘Gummo’ Review

Posted in The Screening Room by - August 29, 2017
Sound and Fury: ‘Gummo’ Review

In the tumultuous context provided by Hurricane Harvey, today’s review seems especially relevant given its subject film: Gummo.

Marking the directorial debut of Harmony Korine, Gummo is a quietly uncomfortable film that gets under your skin right from the beginning and doesn’t let up. Years after being hit by a devastating tornado, the small town of Xenia, Ohio has shown no signs of recovering its pre-disaster prosperity. Focused mainly on the town’s adolescents, Gummo follows Xenia’s youth as they roam the rotting wasteland of Xenia. Playing pranks, sniffing glue, and paying for sex with a friend’s sister, the teenagers of Xenia pass the time by indulging in every manner of base debauchery. Meanwhile, reporters molest young girls, the retarded girl shaves her eyebrows, and a young albino girl fosters a crush on Patrick Swayze.

Like so many other fictional social commentary films, Gummo blends the raw, unedited documentary shooting style with a sharp dose of hyper-reality that suspends the final product in a cinematographic limbo that makes it incredibly unnerving to watch. Like watching discovery channel during a bad acid trip.

As we witness the inexorable decay of Xenia, we are forced to draw only one conclusion – that Xenia, and its inhabitants, represent American society and where it’s headed. But, frankly, it’s not an entirely difficult conclusion to draw; Korine is only a few extra lines from screaming it in your face the entire film.

It’s not a new concept, nor an especially unjustified one – the problem is Gummo handles the idea so clumsily with its filthy, sticky fingers, that it ends up becoming less of a social commentary and more of an angry, unrelenting visual attack at anyone who decides to watch it.

For such a young director (at the time of the film’s premiere), Korine creates some truly disturbing and shocking images. The problem with it all is that he’s trying so desperately to shock and disturb us that the social purpose for that shock is lost in all the screaming and crying.

What Gummo presents may be an accurate prediction for America’s future, but it does not handle that prediction with the weight or precision it deserves. Ultimately Gummo comes across as an angry and misguided film; too busy focused on all the sound and fury of the director’s discontent with the way things are today that it foregoes offering any semblance of a solution or hope for the future.

Desperate for attention and not offering much of anything in the way of real enjoyment or thought-provoking material, Gummo isn’t worth its 88-minute runtime unless you’re looking for a hundred other reasons to hate America (as if you needed them anyway). Bitterness and anger are only good motivators if they result in real change. Unaddressed discontent can do nothing but fester and self-perpetuate itself in an endless cycle of hate. If you want things to change, don’t yell about why they’re terrible and how they’ll never get better, work towards making them a little less terrible. What else is art for?

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When not drowning in school work or ignoring social obligations he enjoys watching movies on just about anything. Currently making his way through the cinema classics he hopes to one day write a novel, but he’ll probably end up playing The Witcher 3 instead.
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