9 May 2014 | chaos-rampant
Horizons small and large
Don't be put off by the man's reputation: the film is about dreams, the illusions our selves weave to tangle with things.
The first admission is that the film is the precursor to Trash and Spring but the vision is not refined yet. Contrary to various misconceptions, Korine is not a nihilist, about nothing, though he flirts with provocation. This has all manner of that, in its main thrust however it is about beauty and meaning as much as any Malick.
The provocation is as in his other works about the ways we consume culture, as biting as Godard in his time and at least here as superficial. The image always reflects your view of the thing pictured, so when you perceive superficial things to rail against it's going to be a superficial perception. Here an example is the segment in the retirement home with senile old people gawking at Michael Jackson, one of them tapping his head with a hammer.
Now about the thing that matters here.
The film is centered on people acting roles - in Trash they were pretending to be old people, in Spring it's even more subtle and deep. Here impersonators of cultural icons; Jackson, Marilyn, Chaplin. Among them, Abe Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth and the Pope so he can have opportunity to provoke later on; a Pope who stinks and so on.
So this is about people who are not content to be who they are, who have to adopt an image that lets them go out and do things, opening up a horizon of life as performance with the complexities of self more evident than just people on the street.
Part of the fun is to see the famous faces in all sorts of hijinks, the faces picked because they're so recognizable; Jackson, Marilyn, Chaplin, each one's demons as famous as their glamorous light. But more, it's an opportunity to conjure our preconceptions ahead of us, show the complexity of that image we know: where we expected the neurotic self, we find people doing things, happily drinking in a pond or playing pingpong, where we expected glamorous light, we find the same troubled souls as the rest of us, feeling small or neglected.
It falters for me in that Korine decided to have this play out in a separate stage, a castle in Scotland, removed from life. It is his way of hitting up against the problem: an inner life of dreams as the desire to be someone else, as an escape to a stage that has no life to gracefully perform for no one (seen as a performance they stage for an audience of three people), so in the end when Jackson sheds the artificial self and returns to the world an ordinary guy, we see that it's this world and your own self that has to be lived. (Korine must have realized that if it is to pose a real question, the stage of dreams has to be seen around us, accessible; ordinary middle America in Trash, the this-worldly illusion of Florida.)
So a mild failure from this view, but with hindsight a necessary one to move beyond it. The gamble is to not be stuck grooming a view.
There's a great image here where we see the man cultivate the intuitive reach. In a separate subplot Herzog packs nuns in a plane to fly over the tropics and drop parcels of food, a nun finds herself airborne; the ecstatic rush of sky, the apprehension of god as the swirl of the whole horizon, everywhere light and air.