I have been trying to see "gummo" for a few years now, and finally I got a chance to watch it. there was this instant shock, this eerie, sickening feel as I watched it, often realizing that I am squinting with uneasiness. there were moments of strange insecurity, when I feverishly searched my mind to re-affirm my difference from these characters.
I am still not sure how I feel about it, and why, being so disturbing, it has this appealing aura of "coolness". is it externalization of my fears and chilling excitement of facing them? the fear of banality and general "fucked-upness"? is it simply exploitative, in a shocking manner or in a sappy, tear-jerking way? after all, is there a message, a summarizing statement at the end? there is no plot, no story, no beginning or ending; it is a collage without any boundaries, where all that matters is existence and your reaction to it.
going through all this in my head, I realized that this is the best response the director could hope for - the film makes you think, it knocks you out of your convenient reality, at the same time it does not lay down heavy-weight morals (like his screenplay for "kids" does in most straightforward and blatant manner), but merely presents almost a documentary-like imagery (complete with included home videos) without being pretentious or intentionally shocking. I do wonder how the director relates to his characters, it seems that he occupies a distant position, humoring, documenting, and yet sympathizing.
there were a few really powerful moments that are practically engraved in my mind with their profoundly disturbing luminosity - little skinny kid lifting "weights" in front of the mirror with madonna playing on the background, his abnormal ribcage almost tearing through the skin; his little stick hands and unflinching seriousness on his face. yet another scene with the same kid eating in the bathtub, with dirty, gritty textures, violent colors - disgusting and yet strangely sad and even oddly adorable. or take the kid with bunny ears, a surreal image that might even add a poetic touch to the whole picture. of course those moments are constantly contrasted by fucked up mullets, deformed disabled characters, general depression and hopelessness.
I almost fell off the chair, when I recognized brighter death now on a soundtrack. this rumbling sickening noise was the best sound piece for this movie (although I do admit that having burzum, bathory and slayer contributing music to the film back in 1997 is almost as cool, too bad they did not quite match the atmosphere).
what does make this movie human, or even touching is this peculiar "lost" feel that the characters have - kids without morals, without usual childhood, without anything, really, to keep them around except for just existing. during his commentary harmony korine mentiones robert bresson, a clue that might send you searching for more meanings of this picture.
individual parts of "gummo" might be questionable, but as a whole it works very effectively, provoking the viewer without resorting to purely exploitative shock tactics.