Gummo (1997): Desolation of a Small Town

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“Gummo” was a film that a friend recommended and let me borrow. Suffice to say, it definitely impressed me. The feel and tone of the film never change and the characters are human. I’ll go into more of what I mean in the assessment.

“Gummo” was written and directed by Harmony Korine and produced by Cary Woods, Scott Macaulay and Robin O’Hara.

The story takes place in Xenia, Ohio sometimes after a tornado destroys the town. The story revolves around a few characters, the key ones being Bunny Boy, Solomon, Tummler and the sisters and their stories of dealing with the desolation and the self destruction inflicted on themselves and around them.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Tone – The tone is great in this. There is no joy in this film and that is kind of the point. Most moments of joy are contrasted by the destruction being wrought. One of the biggest scenes of this is happy music being played while Bunny Boy (the character in the poster) making out with the sisters, while the Tummler and Solomon kill their cat that they’d been looking for, and later the tornado and a character with special needs singing a song about how Jesus loves her right after Bunny Boy brings the dead cat to the camera.

The Introduction – The introduction captures the bleakness of the picture. Solomon is the narrator and he tells about how the tornado destroyed everything and how people’s bones were sticking of their bodies and how he saw up a girls skirt when she got pulled away, also how one death was funny. You get the trauma and the caring which leads into Bunny Boy on the overpass and later getting “killed” by two hooligan kids who mock him for his pink ears.

The characters – The characters are human, which should be a given in a film but with so much bad writing and/or acting it is hard to really capture this sometimes. “Gummo” does it really well. We see Tummler drinking and arm wresting his dad and Tummler’s carrying for Solomon contrasted with him having sex with a down syndrome girl who is being pimped out by her brother, and getting high off glue.

The Relationships – Tummler and his dad, you see how his dad feels desperate but still cares for his son as best he can…same with Solomon and his mother who just wants him to smile again. The sisters also have a great relationship as they look out for each other after one goes through breast surgery because of cancer and fighting off a molester who says he found their cat. The movie is bleak and dark, but the relationships are strong.

The Cats – So many cats were poached, mostly by Tummler and Solomon, but also their rival who is caring for his grandmother on life support. You get the feeling the cats represent some level of innocence as the girls, who are the only real kind people in the film have a pet cat, the rest are prayed upon by the boys. Pretty much summing up the stories of the victims in the town (molestation(a few characters), lonliness (most if not all), repressed sexuality (a gay relationship that isn’t able to happen because of gay dwarf in denial) throughout the film.

Okay: the Music – This film would have almost worked better without music or a soundtrack. The music that is played in certain scenes gets the job done. So it isn’t really at that strong overall.

The Cinematography – There were some great moments of cinemography and some bad moments. I wish the uglyness had been more raw or stylized throughout. There isn’t a real focus with it, which contributed to the problem of lack of focus.

Cons: Lack of focus – I wish it had just focused on the core groups. Making it about everyone in the town took away from their narratives and character development. For example, when did they start killing cats and sniffing glue (Tummler and Solomon). Do they have any hopes or dreams? Do any of the characters? If so, show us more of why.

“Gummo” is a film I would definitely recommend. It is a cult classic for a reason and I can’t wait to see more of Harmony Korine’s work. The writing and acting is fantastic and the tone is consistent and powerful throughout.

Final Score is 8.5 / 10

Definitely a favorite film.

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