Friday, December 05, 2008

Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely

I saw Harmony Korine’s newest film, Mister Lonely (2007), which recently came out on DVD. There have been some bad reviews, some mixed, some good, but I really thought it was a great film. Diego Luna plays a Michael Jackson impersonator who meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (played by Samantha Morton), who takes him to a commune of other impersonators. This storyline is juxtaposed throughout the film with images of nuns jumping out of an airplane as an act of faith, and surviving unharmed. There are some great scenes of the nuns plummeting through the air. Werner Herzog is amazing in this section as a German priest. Seemingly, the two parts are unrelated, yet both have to do with communal living and the sense of being alienated or separated from mainstream society. Both storylines end tragically.

The reason why some people may not have liked this film, I am guessing, is that it works more on images and associations, rather than on plot. However, there is a narrative, especially in the impersonator section. The commune is defined by a very weird interpersonal dynamic, dominated by a controlling Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant). The group puts on a show to display their talents, which almost no one comes to (the location is rural Scotland). There is a sense of doom hanging over the whole situation, as their sheep have come down with a case of foot-and-mouth disease and have to be slaughtered (the Three Stooges do the shooting). In a couple of signal moments, we discover Chaplin’s cruelty toward the Marilyn character. A possible love story between Michael and Marilyn is unrealized in the turn of events. The Michael character will go on to find himself, in a sort of twist — you might have initially thought the message was that he already had. Questions of identity are oddly subverted.

I liked the fact that this film brings back together Anita Pallenberg (playing the Queen of England impersonator — kind of ironic, no?) and James Fox (impersonating the Pope). Both starred in Nicholas Roeg’s Performance (1970), and there are similar themes in Mister Lonely of identity and alienation. Their presence is a clever allusion.

What I liked best about Mister Lonely, though, were its standout scenes and images: a manic version of Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” with a whacked-out Lincoln (Richard Strange) shouting the piece while spinning a basketball on his finger under harsh lights, the opening sequence of Luna on the mini-bike with the strange stuffed monkey trailing behind (vaguely reminiscent of the bike-riding scenes in Gummo?), the verité stuff outside of the convent, the later scene of the dead nuns floating in the water, etc. The images are constructed almost like images would be in a poem. These are the building blocks, not the storyline/s. And only with Herzog is the emphasis really on dialogue. In the “making of” feature included in the DVD, Korine mentions that a lot of the images originally came from dreams. These are what resonate, and I think are the real point of the film. Korine approaches film as a visual art firstly; it is thusly that his themes and ideas come across.

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