Gummo ★★★★★

“Life is great. Without it you’d be dead” 

Gummo is a film that I find myself constantly revisiting time and time again, and sometimes I have to remind myself why. It doesn’t follow any sort of traditional narrative structure, doesn’t have any real concrete plot, and is overwhelmingly sour. It doesn’t have any flashy cinematography, extensive production design, A-list actors (or even very many professional actors), or any other elements that one would maybe hope for or even expect in any given film. Yet, Gummo remains one of the most fascinating, visceral, and unique triumphs of independent cinema. 

The film essentially acts as a montage piece that’s comprised mostly of seemingly random vignettes. These yarns range from a trio of sisters who don’t have much better to do with their time than to paint their nails and artificially make their nipples look bigger, to a couple of hoodlums who spend their days killing stray cats, selling their corpses to a local butcher, and getting high on glue afterward. On the surface level, it can all seem pointless and gratuitous (and who knows, maybe it is) but as the film goes on you start to piece together a bleak, nihilistic, but strangely beautiful picture out of the seemingly unrelated pieces. 

The film takes place in Xenia, Ohio a few years after a deadly tornado ravished the town, leaving it as a desolate, lawless, wasteland that just screams post-apocalyptic. This hell hole is occupied by people who have no sense of morality, decency, or greater purpose. And that's where the glue that binds all the pieces together really comes into play. What could come across as unconnected scenes and characters are in fact bound together through these means. The two hoodlums that kill cats and sell their corpses, the three sisters that artificially make their nipples bigger with adhesive tape, the pimp brother who prostitutes his own mentally impaired sister, the drunk angry man who beats the shit out of inanimate objects, these people share the same tragic fate. They all live in this dreary town, all were, presumably, raised without love or proper guidance, and all live lives of poverty, desperation, and anguish. There is a feeling when you watch these people interact that they behave as though everything is fine, but internally they know, whether consciously or unconsciously, that this is not the way they were meant to live.

Despite these weighty themes, the film is not without a sense of humor, with many scenes that are uproariously funny. But even the moments that allow this much-needed levity are not without a deep feeling of melancholy under the surface. One good example of this is when two young boys shoot BB's at another boy pretending to be a rabbit (who proceeds to play dead after being "shot") the performances and dialogue are genuinely funny, but you can't help but wonder how tragic all these boys lives are that this is how they conduct themselves and is what they do for fun.

Despite the lack of a big budget and flashy cinematography, the film manages to be visually striking, providing many unforgettable images and moments. It's well shot and lit, while still retaining it's sense of grit and low-budget charm.

In summary, Gummo is a gritty, grim, darkly funny, and profound film that is unlike any other.

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