Review by Mike D’Angelo
Posted on 18 September 2009
Source 35mm print
Categories The 2009 Toronto International Film Festival
Anyone who’s ever studied logic is familiar with the concept of falsifiability, but it never seems to occur to most people that the basic idea has much broader application. In a nutshell, an assertion or premise is falsifiable if you can at least conceive of evidence that would controvert it; if such evidence is impossible to even imagine, much less produce, then you’ve got something unfalsifiable. Movies, I submit, ought to be falsifiable—or, to put it another way, no film can be considered good unless one can conceive of a similar film, poorly executed, which would be quite bad. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Harmony Korine’s fourth feature, Trash Humpers, will appeal exclusively to the handful of folks who derive their shaky sense of self-worth from enjoying films like Trash Humpers. Nor do these people actually need to see Trash Humpers in order to conclude that it’s awesome, since its perceived awesomeness is encoded in its conceptual DNA. Korine simply describing the idea in a couple of sentences would serve just as well.
Allow me to demonstrate. Trash Humpers features three actors (including Korine and his wife) wearing grotesque masks designed to make them look like obscene parodies of the white-trash elderly. These are not characters in any conventional sense—they remain nameless and undifferentiated throughout, and the film as a whole has no discernable narrative. Instead, Korine offers up a random series of discrete, meaningless vignettes. The trio, as advertised, engage in frottage with various trash receptacles. They break stuff with hammers, or by throwing it high into the air and watching it crash to the ground. They chant nonsense phrases and tunelessly hum folk ditties. They somehow get three hookers to kneel on a bed and then take turns smacking them on the ass. Korine captures all of their cretinous activity in deliberately ugly-looking VHS, complete with bad tracking and archaic onscreen text.
Having read the above paragraph, you already know – I all but guarantee – whether or not you’ll like the film. How can I say that so confidently? Because what Korine is doing in Trash Humpers can’t be done well, or done poorly, or done indifferently. Execution isn’t a factor—the movie, by design, has no conventional virtues, so there’s literally no way to screw it up. You either respond to this kind of thing or you don’t; if you do, seeing the film is superfluous. I am not at all kidding when I say that I could go out this weekend with a camcorder and make my own version of Trash Humpers, falsely putting Korine’s name on it, and absent evidence to the contrary you’d never know the difference. “Put on these masks. Okay, now act like horny, destructive morons. And… action!” Major fall festivals, here I come.
It’s important to note that this isn’t just a case of one bourgeois critic not connecting with Korine’s underground sensibility. Granted, his freak-show aesthetic has always struck me as an empty hipster pose, but I quite liked parts of julien donkey-boy, and while I despised Gummo, at least that film had a certain repulsive beauty—it was clearly composed. Trash Humpers, by contrast, is the grotesque, exploitation-flick equivalent of the gallery painting that’s nothing but a mile of blank canvas with a single red dot in the precise center—an idea so simple and stupid that it had never occurred to anyone before, inevitably to be hailed by a select few as bold and visionary, a triumph of originality. That it’s being taken seriously by intelligent cineastes is cause for despair. The title is one word too long.
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