For some reason that I don't quite understand I've managed to see all three feature films that Harmony Korine has made in the theater even though I find him unbelievably pretentious and stupid. Kids (1995), which he wrote for filmmaker Larry Clarke, Gummo (1997), and Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) make up a trilogy of nonsense, an over-heated, underwhelming series of films that display the total lack of depth or thought in their creator. While Julien Donkey-Boy contained some fascinating performances (notably from Werner Herzog and Ewen Bremner) Korine's anti-style is always the star of the show.
In Gummo he creates a town that, as an unidentified narrator explains, was ravaged by a tornado and left in ruins. The scenes that construct the film, however, have nothing to do with that premise. Instead they paint a portrait of a dysfunctional world where nothing makes sense. Korine claims to be drawn to the beauty in such characters as midgets, young people with Downs Syndrome, and cat-killing glue-sniffers, but his film shows that not to be the case. There is beauty to be found in unlikely places but Korine's style is incoherent and manipulative. He pretends to be a great literary figure whose visions break taboos and reveal the truth but in reality he is a talentless simpleton. He's even figured out the perfect rebuttal to critics: If you don't like his films you "just don't get it."
However, his aggressively stupid scripts and characters don't hint at deeper meaning or thematic relevance at all. In fact, he brags that two thirds of Gummo were filmed in one day, followed immediately by his pulling down his pants, punching his sister, getting stabbed, vomiting, and passing out for three days. This scenario is highly implausible, as are all of his boasts of debauchery in the media, but it would probably have made a better film than the one he actually created.
Mind you, I don't have a problem with the "outrageousness" of Korine's films. While I think that the persistent cruelty to cats in Gummo, both real and simulated, is reprehensible, I'm not outraged or sickened by the human degradation he shows. What I find disappointing is the total lack of meaning or clarity to any of it. He seems to include it only as bait for critics: Say you're disgusted and he'll call you a stupid prude. Korine believes his own hype as an arty enfant terrible too much to look at himself critically and, since he's received some praise, albeit far less than he probably imagines, he's unlikely to turn a mirror to his own psyche any time soon.
Notably absent from the extras is the film's intriguing trailer (what got me in the theater in the first place), most likely because of its use of Madonna's "Like a Prayer". It's a shame since the trailer makes a more interesting viewing experience than the film itself.