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The Independent Critic

Chloe Sevigny, Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton
Harmony Korine
Rated R
89 Mins.
 "Gummo" Review 
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Writer/Director Harmony Korine has a unique mind. It is impossible, I believe, to argue with this fact. Korine wrote "Kids" and also directed "Julien-Donkey Boy" following this directing debut.

"Gummo", on the surface, is a rather repulsive and ugly film...perhaps even moreso than Larry Clark's "Kids." I read an analogy that it is much like a music album. It is a series of scenes, or songs, that upon first listen seem to be disconnected yet repeated reviewings reveal a connection. Sometimes, admittedly, this connection is a rather thin one...yet, upon subsequent viewings of "Gummo" I found myself feeling like I was "getting it" more and more and more.

Don't get me wrong...this is NOT an enjoyable film to watch. The casual viewer...the recreational viewer of film will, quite literally, find nothing entertaining here. This is NOT an entertaining film. It is, however, a thought provoking film...a film of challenge that requires a viewer to go beyond passive viewing into very actively experiencing the film.

I watched this film, in fact, for a very painful reason. As a sexual abuse survivor, my childhood perpetrator moved to and currently lives in Xenia, Ohio. It is a sad town, but not so unlike many other towns. Korine follows various characters in this town, which was once nearly devastated by a tornado. The lives followed here include mostly adolescents and centers on two boys, Solomon and Tummler. Solomon's father was killed during the Xenia tornadoes...and the film follows these boys on various destructive and self-destructive exploits that defy any cinematic validity. This is not film in most ways, it is real life. This "real life" includes glue sniffing, riding dirtbikes, sex and watching such challenging scenes as a man pimping his mentally ill wife.

I found the cinematography of "Gummo" stark, depressing but oddly hypnotic. I found the performances, including that of Chloe Sevigny to be honest, authentic and sad. I have heard this film described as pretentious...perhaps, it is a touch pretentious. Yet, I feel any film that dwells on the human condition is destined to be a touch pretentious. It seems inevitable. It also seems inevitable that a film such as this will be bashed and derided for making fun of or dramatizing small-town life or "poor white trash." Yet, for many of us who experienced early childhood cruelty this film rings of great truth...truth that is not often known or seen or believed. Many of the behaviors in this film, I have heard, could not possibly be true and go beyond the realm of reality. Yet, in my own life I recognize that much of what I experienced in childhood went beyond the realm of "believability." I grew up craving just to have someone believe me and didn't satisfy that craving until my 20's. Korine, in my eyes, doesn't condescend to the characters in this films but allows them to develop naturally, completely, honestly and vividly. It is, at times, funny, painful, frightening and challenging to view.

"Gummo" for me represents the side of life that we don't like to see...heck, we don't like to believe it even exists. Yet, it does exist. These are stories that need to be told, need to be shown and desperately need to be believed. This film, while not perfect, reminds me why I've been an activist for the last 15 years and working to empower those who have survived traumatic childhoods by giving them room to tell their stories and be believed. "Gummo" is a reminder of the immense pain, tragic darkness and overwhelming cruelty that can exist in our society...yet, for me, it is also a call to do something about it.


© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic