The undesirable. The ignored. The forgotten. The grotesque. These are the subjects of Harmony Korine’s Gummo. The film revolves around the citizens of Xenia, Ohio after it was hit by a tornado some twenty years earlier. The scenes form a patchwork quilt that delivers an interesting narrative of an American city.
I have recently become fascinated by the grotesque. In the last two weeks I’ve read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood and watched Twin Peaks and the League of Gentlemen. All three of these works deal with small towns, characters that are taken for granted and the uncanny that is behind everyone‘s character. I had no idea that Gummo would follow this trend, a coincidence that made the viewing all the more special.
The characters in Gummo are characters in real life. Korine said he wanted non-actors because they can offer a piece of themselves. In Gummo each character brings a piece of themselves to the screen, an honest open piece, and allows the audience to make the judgment. Sometimes it’s difficult to watch, most of the time the question is why. Why are these people doing this? What is the reason they are behaving like this? Is it the tornado? Did that implant this nihilistic dread into them?
No answer is given of course. All the audience knows is that these are the people of Xenia, Ohio. Take them or leave them. The structure of the film is non-linear, a series of scenes with recurring characters. The impression is what one might have after spending a weekend in the town. Maybe you wouldn’t know everyone by name, but you would have an idea of what is going on there.
Harmony Korine wanted to present a collage of images and have the narrative create itself. My interpretation of the narrative is summed up in one of the final scenes. Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) sits in murky water in a bathtub. Dinner is brought to him and he eats his spaghetti while soaking in the dirty water. The doorbell rings and his mother answers it. She buys a candy bar from two black boys and then brings it to Solomon. In the midst of the murky water, with a mouthful of half-chewed spaghetti, he begins to devour the chocolate bar after it fell into his water. Never mind the spaghetti, never mind the water, never mind anything, everything is thrown to the wind. Sucked up by the same tornado that ripped through the town and scattered the pieces of its citizens lives.