The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine’s comeback to mainstream cinema, is an uncompromising aesthetical debauchery about stoner poet’s Moondog fortunes and misfortunes. Relentlessly ironic yet unexpectedly insightful, this outrageously technicolour tale will make you fall in love with Korine’s post-hippy guru – while reminding you how much you hate ironing your clothes and doing the washing-up.
Harmony Korine has never been great at compromising, and the aesthetical debauchery of his latest work, The Beach Bum, gives further proof of that. Set under the luxuriant sunshine of Florida’s beaches, the film pays homage to stoner poet Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), the youngest of Korine’s self-fulfilled deranged prophets, and to his techni-colourful way of life. Retracing James Franco’s Alien’s footsteps in Spring Breakers (2012), Moondog claims to be “from another dimension”, and his unfettered life unfolds to the rhythm of the mesmerizing combination of cubist editing and John Debney’s soothing music score. Korine is turning Key West in an all-seasons carnival packed with celebrities turned naughty (Isla Fischer, Zac Efron and Snoop Dogg among others), and Moondog happens to be the show’s appointed freak-in-chief master of ceremonies.
Naive guru to an entourage of drug dealers and party animals, McConaughey’s “bum figure” was born with one mission and one only: inconspicuously setting the cool way of doing things in a place beyond good and evil where the lines of groove and boredom overlap. But clearly this is no place for real life to blossom in. As Benoît Debie’s cinematography loudly screams, what we are witnessing on the screen is more than an opiate dream seen through a looking glass: the very absurd, repressed side of life has sprung back into existence, and we are wading through its magma with Moondog’s own legs.
Or maybe there really is no secondly intended meaning to it, and Korine is simply mirroring his eccentric brainchild as he turns our ethical preconceptions upside down right before our eyes. As The Bum would say, “it was a mess”; but it was fun, and that made you feel like you were sucking the nectar of life. The Beach Bum lives in a liminal limbo of moral ambiguity, and that is precisely what stuns us, and what makes it a great (self-)reflection on individual freedom and the artist’s role in our society. Moondog is clearly a problematic anti-hero; nevertheless, he remains the purest being around in the amusement state of Florida.
Though nothing is reality-like in Korine’s film, everything is completely plausible. Though nothing is desirable, everything is alluring. Thanks to this intended ambiguity, The Beach Bum glorifies the unglorifiable, teasing our eyes and minds with the unheard-of possibility of a life lived for the sake of living. Korine’s film is a thoroughly honest, amazingly simple speculation on the notion of acceptable human behaviour disguised as a movie of over-the-top urban ultraheroes.
Someone argued that there is no difference whatsoever between mainstream and arthouse cinema, and that is certainly true for Korine’s blurred & poppish version of mass cinema. At the end of the day, it all comes down to us, and to the way in which we choose to look at Moondog and his self-indulgent habits. We can simply laugh at him and have a good time at the expenses of this contemporary Peter Pan. Or we can stop loathing and laughing at this post-hippy prophet for a moment, and ask ourselves if we might simply be jealous of his uncaring attitude towards cooking, cleaning, and doing the washing-up. Moondog might be a bum. But no one ever said he was a fool.
The Beach Bum is now playing in U.K. cinemas and will be released on demand on 30th October. It is already available on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital in the U.S.