But trouble lies in that reveal. True absurdists keep their intentions close to their chest. Part of the pleasure in swallowing a film like Inland Empire or The Phantom of Liberty is in the tilted-head stare a David Lynch or Luis Bunuel will give afterwards when asked "What was that supposed to mean?" (One of my favorite director interview books is still Objects of Desire : Conversations with Luis Bunuel. It's frustrating and addictive and, to me, offers some of the greatest lessons in how to enjoy that man's work.) Now, I've never bought into the claim that directors such as Lynch and Bunuel float above meaning in their work, but they'd never give you a road map either. (True, Lynch did include crib notes for the Mulholland Dr. DVD, but I took that as a goof in and of itself.)
I don't mean to put Harmony Korine in the same class as Lynch, Bunuel, or even his hero - and Mister Lonely co-star - Werner Herzog, nor do I think Korine is anywhere near carving out an unique aesthetic beauty the way each of the aforementioned have (hold Herzog's whacked-out undertaking Heart of Glass up to anything Korine's done and you'll notice the gap), but I think theirs is the path that Korine wants to travel down.
Yes, there is beauty in Mister Lonely's best moments: an extended shot of a nun soaring through the atmosphere on a dirt bike; Diego Luna's denouement journey back to his apartment to the sounds of Iris DeMent's wonderful "My Life". But these moments are merely specks on the canvas of a nearly two hour trek. Mister Lonely is mostly nothing but schoolboy daydreams brought to life for the reason that Korine knows somebody that knows somebody. Would this film have been made were it not for Herzog, Samantha Morton, Diego Luna, Denis Lavant, and Leos Carax being on board?
Mister Lonely has built up a critical reputation as the film that will introduce you to a "sweeter, gentler" Harmony Korine. You know, no more dead-dogs-and-cats-posing-for-the-camera type of thang. But there was one scene in particular that burned me. Perhaps it was handled with the utmost professionalism, but I'm skeptical at this point that we weren't witness to some borderline exploitation.
The scene in question takes place in a nursing home. "Michael Jackson" (Diego Luna) is sent there by his agent to entertain the elderly. Luna's performance is sincere, but you get the feeling that behind that camera Korine may be playing the dishonorable opportunist. His cuts to stroke victims and senile residents clapping and singing along with "Michael" appear to be at their expense. I wouldn't say that Korine is mocking them, but it came off like he was using their contortions - a product of their disabilities - as just another part of his production design. It's debatable, and I'm not arguing that the disabled should be off-limits (Late Bloomer, a Japanese film where an actor with cerebral palsy plays a madman, is testament to that), it's just that I sensed a bit of Borat-style chicanery going on. I hope that wasn't the case.