The first thing that comes to my mind after watching Trash Humpers is a rather insouciant question: I wonder how many reviews of this film are going to stretch the limits of what constitutes an accurate synonym for ‘transgressive?’ Every indication given from the basic premise of the movie would naturally suggest that Harmony Korine is trying to freak out the squares again. However, I think this is dead wrong. Mr. Korine is at a point in his filmmaking career where he should understand that very little shocks most astute audiences anymore. If it turns out that he is in fact trying to pass Trash Humpers off as a trangressive piece of art, then he’s fallen prey to the one thing that you’d think would be most vile to him: obsolescence. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure this is not the case.
Trash Humpers’ narrative is at best loosely cobbled together, involving four elderly people roving around the suburbs of Nashville, committing all kinds of crimes against nature, and humping a godawful lot of trashcans. Mr. Korine, after his most technically mainstream film to date, Mister Lonely, has gotten back in touch with his dogmé roots, crafting a film that, in terms of its technical aspects, verges on the laughably amateur. The film plays out like an old found VHS tape, complete with an auto-tracking display and that annoying tendency of old tapes to pitch-shift in places after one-too-many viewings. Korine shot the entire film in character, making random, creepy cackles and leading his fellow actors in various chants from behind the camera, the effect of his looming presence heightening the verité mood of the film. What we see when watching it is a seemingly random stringing together of disparate scenes, the one unifying thread between them being the total and utter depravity of the movie’s principal subjects.
For the film, Korine, his buddies Travis Nicholson and Brian Kotzur, and his young wife, Rachel, donned thrift store outfits, orthopedic shoes, and quite realistic old-people masks and set about the business of sexually dominating the trash bins of their hometown, Nashville. Along the way, they meet a pair of conjoined twins who they force to make them pancakes, a transvestite poet, some overweight prostitutes, and several other weird folks, all of whom they abuse. But what’s the point? Any attempt towards a linear understanding of the film will definitely prove fruitless and frustrating. Korine gives us hints about what he might mean through all of the depravity, but sure enough contradicts himself moments later. After a while, it becomes clear that this is intentional on the director’s part, that he is in fact steering us away from trying to interpret the vague symbolism and shades of meaning and plot that he dangles in front of us like a carrot before a confused horse. He is not trying to make a statement about the depravity of mankind or how we may or may not have lost our way as a society. He’s just showing us a raw portrait of the way his demented characters interact with the world around them. If you allow him to do so, the entire experience becomes electrifying.
It seems to me that this movie’s depraved subject matter will surely pique the disdain of many of Mr. Korine’s most vehement detractors, who, for the most part, dislike him because they think his work merely serves to unsettle and disgust. Korine’s harshest critics have always thought of him as an immature shock artist, and the content of this film will most likely give them more than enough firepower to level their arguments of bad taste and degeneracy against him. I’m pretty sure a lot of people will come away from the experience of watching Trash Humpers with the feeling that Korine has lost any dignity that he might’ve still had after making Julien Donkey Boy, the director merely spinning his wheels, trying to get a rise out of his audience by showing them disgusting images of old people fellating tree branches, murdering people, and destroying private property, etc. This cursory and thick-headed reading of Korine’s latest effort would serve no justice to the indelible characters and honest portrayals of humanity that have always been a benchmark of his films, Trash Humpers being no exception.
Trash Humpers will probably pass under the radar of mainstream Western moviegoers much in the same way that Korine’s other films have. This is a real pity, seeing as he’s one of the most original and talented filmmakers our country has to offer the world. The director’s now famous maxim that he “never cared so much about making perfect sense” rings true throughout the film. Somehow this works to his advantage: by freeing himself from the worry of meaning, Korine has crafted something truly interesting and thought-provoking. There is absolutely no guile whatsoever in this film. It’s terrific.