Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mister Lonely

Harmony Korine’s latest cinematic offering “Mister Lonely” comes hot on the bizarro heels of such oddball and often time disturbing offerings, as “Kids”, “Gummo” and “Julien Donkey Boy”. “Mister Lonely,” a slightly softer film than some of Korine’s other more controversial movies, follows the fortunes of a young American lost and lonely in Paris where he makes his living as a street performer impersonating Michael Jackson. The movie begins with Michael’s utopian belief that he can be anyone he wants to be and find in this ongoing impersonation some kind of misplaced freedom and sense of self. Michael sees himself as master of his own destiny and takes comfort in fully embracing the identity he has created for himself. A powerful opening scene finds Michael moonwalking and gyrating for a group of senile pensioners in a nursing home, repeatedly chanting, “you’re never going to die, I want you to live forever,” as if he truly believes in his own omnipotence.

Moments later Michael is introduced to a Marilyn Monroe lookalike. Besotted from the outset by her ethereal charms and the promise of utopia, (a place where everyone is famous and no one ever grows old,) he follows her back to the Scottish commune where she lives with her husband- a Charlie Chaplin impersonator, her daughter- Shirley Temple, and a number of other impersonators including Madonna, Abraham Lincoln, Sammy Davis Jr., the Pope, the Queen and somewhat bizarrely, in a film marked by the ongoing suspension of disbelief- Little Red Riding Hood. This unlikely group of individuals have created their own version of paradise in the Highlands of Scotland; farming the land, performing nightly and deciding who they each want to be on a daily basis. Korine takes great pains to create his paradise not quite lost, using haunting panoramic camera angles, a deeply nostalgic soundtrack and a number of woozy, almost narcoticized soliloquies from his cast, preaching on the perfect idealism they have finally found here in this community of the misunderstood.

Very soon however, darker powers become apparent in Eden. The Fall comes early in “Mister Lonely” as Marilyn Monroe, dripping strawberry in hand, makes her seductive move on Michael Jackson. He partakes of the fruit and the descent into sin wrecks havoc on the whole community. Death enters into paradise as disease sweeps through the livestock calling for a cull on all the sheep. Adultery, lust, anger and jealousy are all subtly hinted at and magnified under Korine’s unflinching lens. As the film progresses the director refuses to airbrush these impersonated stars who at first seemed glamorous, beautiful and somehow larger than life-we begin to see them blemished and goose bumped, cellulite bulging from beneath their sequined costumes. The effect is almost grotesque as if someone finally turned the house lights on Hollywood to find Tinseltown one hundred years old and bearing the marks of age. Each of the key impersonators begins to find a sense of entrapment in their assumed identities, rather than the initial hoped for freedom. Marilyn Monroe suffers terribly from a lecherous, abusive husband and chooses in return to flirt with adultery. Charlie Chaplin struggles with anger, lust and an inability to be taken seriously and Michael Jackson becomes the Mister Lonely and misunderstood so heavily hinted at in the film’s title. Without exception each of the impersonators begins to assume, not only the fabulous talent of their idealized star, but also their crippling insecurities and character faults. Too late they realize that no one, not even Marilyn Monroe is entirely capable of recreating themself.

Faced with the problem of a fracturing community and reality knocking darkly on their commune door, the community rally round and with forced bravado, decide to put on the show to end all shows, a swaggering wonder of a performance which will wow the locals into not only accepting them as normal but also envying them their odd standing in life. They build a stage, hoping in their own minds to ascend to Babel’s heights, practice for hours and eventually perform to an audience of eight bored looking locals. Finally the penny drops and Korine does an excellent job of capturing a community devastated by the realization of who they really are- a group of individuals unsure of their own identity, flawed, incapable of change and miserably lonely. Monroe surrenders to her assumed destiny and commits suicide, Chaplin descends into hysterics and Michael Jackson trashes his hats and costumes to attempt life in the normal world as a young man without a name.

In “Mister Lonely,” Harmony Korine has given us an excellent, if slightly oddball look, at man’s inability to force his own future. Watching the movie I was once again reminded of the many ways in which I daily attempt to force freedom and escape only to find myself caught up in an ever-contracting noose of my own making. Like a proverb, pinning this whole movie together is the gorgeous metaphor of a group of nuns whom God has blessed with the miraculous ability to fly unaided. For weeks they fly free on invisible wings through God’s blue sky, humbled by their small part in this enormous miracle. Finally the Pope hearing of this miraculous turn of events calls for a display at the Vatican, the nuns pile into a plane, suddenly excited by the idea of celebrity, adventure and actual, tangible human wonder. Korine closes his movie with a shot of these same five nuns, intended by God to plough the open skies, dead and washed up in the wreckage of their shipwrecked plane- a timely reminder of freedom found, tainted by human ambition and oh so easily lost.

Jan Carson blogs at http://specialfriends7.blogspot.com

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