Before the start of this year’s New York Film Festival, if you had asked me what would be the most divisive selection, I would have said, without a doubt, Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” which provoked walkouts during press screenings and caused at least one case of vomiting at the Toronto International Film Festival. But now, after having seen Harmony Korine’s latest, I believe that the astonishing, disturbing, and thoroughly unclassifiable “Trash Humpers” most definitely takes the crown.
Korine first garnered critical attention and media controversy as the 19-year-old wunderkind screenwriter of Larry Clark’s “Kids,” following the sex and drug-filled exploits of a group of teenagers in Manhattan, now best known for launching the careers of actresses Rosario Dawson and Korine’s then-girlfriend Chloe Sevigny. Korine subsequently made the transition to being a director himself, and his films – “Gummo,” “Julien Donkey Boy,” and the much more conventional (relatively speaking) “Mr. Lonely” – featured a fearlessly avant-garde approach to montage and narrative, as well as a keen affinity for society’s outcasts and freaks. “Trash Humpers” brings Korine full circle thematically, having a similar structure to “Gummo,” which followed a number of extremely unusual denizens of a small Ohio town; his new film could be best described as “Gummo”’s demented evil twin.
The most immediately striking aspect of “Trash Humpers” is its look, which visually mimics that of an old VHS tape (found in the trash, perhaps), complete with scan lines, visible screen commands, and a faded, deliberately ugly video visual scheme. Much like “Gummo,” “Trash Humpers” jettisons narrative in favor of a series of vignettes revolving around a group of characters exhibiting increasingly bizarre and violent behavior. Anyone who has logged onto YouTube or seen an episode of “Jackass” will recognize some elements of this film’s aesthetic and its depiction of human folly. “Trash Humpers,” however, takes this style to a much more visceral place, with its relentless devotion to gleeful destruction and unbridled expressions of unhinged libido.
As the title promises, or should I say threatens, there are many scenes of trash cans being humped by a group of elderly people (portrayed by much younger actors in old-folks masks, including Korine himself), who conduct their mischief and mayhem in mall parking lots, parks, abandoned houses, underneath bridges, and anywhere else the mood strikes them. Korine says in the film’s press notes that he was inspired by actual elderly people he observed as a child indulging in similar behavior as that depicted in the film. The characters in “Trash Humpers” seem to live for no other purpose than to act out in the most violent and sexual ways possible, whether it is trashing an abandoned house, smashing TV sets and boom boxes on the pavement, miming fellatio and masturbation using tree branches, or cavorting with a trio of plus-size hookers. Alcohol, along with unbridled ids, is the main fuel driving these characters’ extreme acting out, with no regard to personal safety or any standard of proper behavior. “We live like free people,” the group’s videographer says at one point, pitying all the people with normal lives and jobs in the town. The characters are just as uninhibited in their speech as they are in their actions, cursing, singing and speechifying with abandon.
“Trash Humpers” is the ultimate test for a viewer, its repetition and craziness practically daring one to not just walk out, but flee in disgust. Absolutely, positively, not for the easily offended, “Trash Humpers” is just as boldly idiosyncratic as its creator, and an experience that will not be soon forgotten.
“Trash Humpers” screens at the New York Film Festival on October 1 and 2. To purchase tickets, visit the NYFF Web site.
Video: Harmony Korine press conference