(Part 36 of an ongoing series)
The Father is compassionate, and His rain falls upon the just and the unjust. His sun shines upon the good and the wicked, because that’s how He is. God is good, and God is love. There’s no room in God for looking upon a child of His with disgust, or wanting to cast him out from the body of Christ, or something like that.
Unidentified Priest in Julien Donkey-Boy
It’s easy to smear Julien Donkey-Boy as condescending trash that revels in gawking at weirdos and snickering uncontrollably, different from today’s reality-TV trainwrecks only in its frequent art-house pretensions, and the fact that some of the scenes aren’t actually staged.
And yet amid all of director Harmony Korine’s snickering and art-house nonsense, there’s also a profound pathos at its core that’s closer to Tod Browning’s Freaks than TLC’s Honey Boo-Boo.
Key to the movie’s sympathy is Ewen Bremmer’s unflinching performance. As I started watching Julien Donkey-Boy, I kept wondering if Korine actually cast a mentally ill young man in the lead. It wasn’t until about halfway through that it dawned on me that Holy crap, that’s Spud from Trainspotting!
Julien Donkey-Boy also benefits greatly from what I call “The Herzog Principle,” which states that any stretch of film in which Werner Herzog is involved must be, to some degree, inherently awesome.*
*Note: I have not yet seen Herzog’s performance in Jack Reacher, which I have heard on good authority is a waste of Herzog’s inherent awesomeness; nevertheless, I can’t imagine said performance isn’t at least a little awesome.
Though it’s far from the weirdest part of this weird-ass movie, the scene that best sums up Julien Donkey-Boy is when Herzog’s character describes the “Do I Feel Lucky?” scene from Dirty Harry to explain why it’s better than Julien’s “artsy-fartsy” poem:
I can’t tell what Korine’s trying to do with this scene. Maybe he wrote that dialogue for Herzog’s psycho character as a way to baldly criticize that kind of artificial Hollywood filmmaking. Or maybe Korine genuinely enjoys that scene from Dirty Harry, and he’s trying to use this scene as a way to annihilate the boundaries between so-called “high” and “low” art. Or maybe he simply doesn’t give a fleck about Dirty Harry one way or the other, and just thought it would be funny shit for Herzog to say.
Whatever Korine’s motivation is this scene, and for Julien Donkey-Boy as a whole, it’s arguably the most honest and most complex expression of sick, desperate laughter that 1999 had to offer.