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Gummo

Review by: 
Big McLargehuge
Release Date: 
1997
Studio: 
New Line
Genre: 
Dark Drama
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
1 NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 
1.85:1
Directed by: 
Harmony Korine
Cast: 
Wendall Carr
Charles Matthew Coatney
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
2
Bottom Line: 
5

 Gummo opens with the following quote: “Xenia, Ohio. Xenia, Ohio. A couple of years ago, a tornado hit this place. It killed the people left and right. Houses were split open, and you could see necklaces hanging from branches of trees. Dogs died. Cats died. I saw a girl fly through the sky... and I looked up her skirt.” The quote is spoken by Solomon, a little red-haired kid with virtually no chin who will be our most frequent companion during our 90 minute exploration of the ruins of Xenia, Ohio.
 
Harmony Korine has made a film of profound dread and anguish that purports the very nature of hell to be firmly entrenched in childhood. The children of Xenia are invisible, terrible, stupid, violent, promiscuous, and almost predestined for tragedy. But then, their childhood itself is tragedy. Korine suggests that the aftermath of the tornado reveals the true nature of humanity at its absolute worst and challenges the assertion that children bounce back from tragedy.
 
They don’t, but they survive to take their place in society as truly screwed up adults.The children of Xenia, like the detritus of modern life heaped in the yards and corners of all of the houses in the film, are little more than things.
 
None of the kids in Xenia provides the Hollywood stereotype of innocent child, or wily smart-ass. The kids in Xenia are shockingly devoid of emotion in any shape or form. They are almost like zombies. The one time there is an emotional outburst it’s Tummer entertaining the father of a retarded prostitute, but the emotion is fake, all false. We learn he’s imitating a stand up comedy routine, and the jokes suck, even when they are yelled. It’s the only time they speak much above a whisper, and it’s meaningless. Just like each and every one of their lives. The kids are zombies... They have to be.
 
But then, that’s how you survive in hell.
 
Everything from neighborhoods to houses to people are torn inside out and trapped in chaos. Korine’s visuals are mesmerizing (I especially liked the kid who moved his family portrait revealing a nest of cockroaches before settling down in his mothers lap while she huffs glue. Why? I don’t know, but I couldn’t take my eyes off it.)
 
Gummo has no plot to speak of and plays almost like a documentary minus the narration explaining why the images we see are important, and that is the greatest strength of the film. Harmony Korine simply presents these images and situations without context, rhyme, or reason and allows the viewer to assign significance to them. And the scenes are eerie.
 
A boy in a bunny suit urinating on passing cars, Solomon and Tummer selling dead cats to the local market and spending the booty on... well... the booty of a retarded girl pimped out by what appears to be her Dad. The list goes on and on and on.
 
Xenia is hell.
 
The one scene that stood out for me though, was a simple little soliloquy where a young girl describes her experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of her father. The visual is simple, the girl playing a pool of dirty water with occasional flashes of a creepy black and white photo of her dad and mom on the porch. Korine swells the sound of twisting metal over and under the girls voice so that as her tale unfolds more and more of it is obscured, lost if you will, beneath the shriek. He lingers, at the end, on a closeup of her father’s deranged smile while she intones, quite matter of factly, “but it was okay, because he was my dad and he said he loved me.”
 
Xenia is hell.
 
The children on Gummo are the damned. Whether damned to poverty, cancer (as one girl learns she has in the first frames of the film), rape, drugs, or violence, the children are trapped in Xenia forever.
 
Xenia is hell.
 
Korine gives us a few adults to see, and they are exactly the same as the children. Detached, shell shocked, stupid, vain, and sick, the only difference between the kids and adults of Xenia is size.
 
Xenia is hell.
 
Hammering the point home too, is their relationship. It it not young/old, or smart/dumb, or even innocent/jaded, Korine gives us a predator/prey relationship. All of the children are prey animals, doomed to imitate the failures of their parents when they aren’t actively hunted.
 
Xenia is hell.
 
The only real storyline in the film revolves around Tummer and Solomon tracking down the other kid in town who is selling dead cats to the grocery store. When they meet Tummer simply questions him, but almost none of it is about cats. Tummer wants to know about the kid’s Grandmother for whom he is responsible. She is over 90, comatose, and completely dependent on this kid for survival. Late in the film, when Tummer and Solomon break into the kid’s house to beat him with golf clubs (he isn’t home though) they linger over the old woman. “She’s gone,” Tummer says, “she’s been gone for a long time. But people can live like this forever.”
 
Xenia is hell.
 
The film ends with another retarded girl, one who earlier expressed her love for “babies” (the suggestion is that she will probably have a whole lot of them, because she too is a victim) laying in bed repeating “Jesus loves me,” over and over again.
 
A note for the people who have issues with animals being hurt in film. I have no idea if the cats used in Gummo were real-live cats or if Korine used dead ones from his shooting locations, but Korine lingers on several images of dead cats, and one of a cat being drowned.
 
 

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