A Place Where Everyone Is Famous And No-One Ages: Harmony Korine and Mister Lonely
by Lee Monks
Steven Soderbergh did something pretty impressive not so long ago: he married (eventually) an unmitigated, independent sensibility with mainstream pull, no mean feat. It seemed he had managed to hit on a way of preserving a semblance of integrity in perilously unit-shifting times: he was selling tickets without selling out.
But even Soderbergh has to assemble his backslappers every so often for another Oceans outing in order to fund anything remotely edgy. ‘Indie’ films are not even particularly ‘Indie’ anymore; while we wait for the next efforts from the dwindling likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Abel Ferrara and David Lynch, we have to reconcile our floundering amidst a pretty disastrous fallow period: a seemingly endless conveyor of hollow, platitudinous films concerning disposably faux-tortured whiners desperate for something 'real' (which may involve group hugs, high fives, patronising codas and 'finding yourself‘...as long as you look like you‘ve freshly materialised from the pages of Heat or Now!…) fill the shelves and the multiplexes, jostling for insipid attention. They look edgy…but look closer: you eventually learn to decode the scrambled message. Set in suburbia; concerning troubled individuals that act as catalysts for sustained (but vague and unimpressive) change; ‘alcoholic’ idlers drifting around enormous houses talking in anodyne riddles; by-numbers dissolute character pieces that unravel but think the unravelling is part of their sophisticated ‘edginess‘ as opposed to confirmation of their pseudo-elaborate clunkiness.
Glistening, foil wrapped turds like Chumscrubber (warning: Jamie Bell is in it, a resounding klaxon harbinger of ‘indie-lite‘), Thumbsucker, The Nines (incoherently flashy disaster masquerading as a claustrophobic mind-melting identity puzzler) and Southland Tales (crazed rag-bag of half-baked, delirious ideas meets a Luc Besson bad dream).
So, as it stands, Harmony Korine is like a glass of water in a really shit, unforgiving desert.
If you want a
sense of an America unfettered, un(Chum)scrubbed, undiluted, scratchy, smeared
and properly raw, Harmony Korine can be counted on to serve up something warped
and befitting, a jumpy vinyl version of a Blu-ray world. No feeble, focus-group
derived band-aids for people with maxed-out store-cards looking for a simple
cinematic guilt balm. No drab attempts at answering the big questions, just a
joyous riff on the bizarre mess we’re in and a far more accurate encapsulation
The new film, Mister Lonely, an attempt to sift, interrogate and understand the dynamics of a rigorously empty celebrity culture, seems to say: wanting to be someone else is intensely dangerous but inevitable (the characters in the film have rescinded their own personas and exist instead inside a series of blank tics and gestures, a darkly funny but horrifying limbo aping the likes of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Michael Jackson), or perhaps: the gulf between what we have been fooled into believing (buying stuff to feel better; that we can do what we want; that we have free will; that we are worth saving) and the reality is potentially too vast to reconcile.
Julien Donkey Boy, a hilarious snapshot of the eponymous hero and his nightmarish but easily recognisable American family, is a glaring pre-cursor. Korine deals in families quietly devastated by fractious incompatibility, but always with a seething, warped jocularity evident as a kind of involuntary antidote, laughter in the dark. Mister Lonely does something slightly different: this time, the family is borne out of remnants cut adrift from popular culture to form a new collective of celebrity impersonating outcasts and dislocated blank canvasses, ghosts attempting to inhabit a fictitious persona as a means of both escape and tethering some kind of reality.
In the Korine scripted Kids, New York looked on as its errant youth unknowingly quickened its own demise. The sun-draped skyscrapers that a HIV-positive Chloe Sevigny walked among were not emblems of power, progress, metropolitan wow or anything else: they were merely there, like us, stripped of metaphorical allure, susceptible to change, good or bad. Korine stares at ennui and it stares back, flatly, with a steady gaze. The camera points at a story, and it plays itself out.
The characters wandering around the Scottish commune in Mister Lonely are no longer able to look at themselves, at what they are, at where they may be heading, and yet they are condemned to perform, to play themselves out, intent on evading mortality by borrowing identities, ‘floating between two worlds’. Korine is firmly entrenched in one, singular world, which you wouldn’t want to live on, but do.