The artistry of Punk Cinema frontman Harmony Korine has become increasingly more elusive with each feature. THE BEACH BUM transports us into the sybaritic lifestyle of an audacious bohemian, Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), but where Korine’s unconventionalist, Eurocentric cinema of the past thrived through its potency, he now seems to have traded abstraction for cohesion; through a window to the everlasting tale of the quest for liberation, with glass less frosted.
Korine strives with his usual dissonance and anti-narrative approach to cinema, with THE BEACH BUM progressing in a predominantly plotless fashion. Despite the disjointed, meandering script, Korine starkly captures the essence of Moondog’s anti-establishment persona through a touching and delicate character study: replacing the transgressive elements we’ve come to expect with a more emotive canvas that resounds the beauty of unorthodoxy. Far from the hyperbolic aesthetics of GUMMO, and the intrusive realism of JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, Korine’s THE BEACH BUM floats on a calmer sea that invites broader audiences to test the water – while familiar fans might miss the waves. THE BEACH BUM certainly prioritises revelling in its structural deviances, but it also constructs a sympathetic lens to society’s misfits; through a more transparent mirror that encapsulates the Freudian id.
“…Korine starkly captures the essence of Moondog’s anti-establishment persona through a touching and delicate character study: replacing the transgressive elements we’ve come to expect, with a more emotive canvas that resounds the beauty of unorthodoxy.”
While Korine’s style has undergone a range of changes, there is a GUMMO-esque link embedded through the abundance of self-reflective metaphors within the character of Moondog. There is an intimacy within Korine’s work, as he allows himself to be absorbed into the parade of weirdos, freaks, and mavericks; and it is Korine’s examination of his own outside position within the Hollywood circle that informs his methodology. From Korine’s debut feature, GUMMO, he has asserted his oppositional approach to the Hollywood narrative through the literary connection to the forgotten Marx brother, but Korine’s reflection in Moondog depicts a more direct notion: the peaks and pitfalls of being an artist. However, the indistinct conflicts between art and commercialism at times distort the sub-text; making it more enigmatic than revealing.
Matthew McConaughey’s performance as the free-spirited Moondog infuses a refreshingly developed human connection to his egocentric dynamic; swirling through smoke rings into the next hazy adventure; in a format that relays lyrical comedy within an internal struggle between loneliness and indifference. McConaughey adds an innate sense of spiritualism to Moondog, transforming him from an eccentric experiment to a cult icon in modern cinema.
THE BEACH BUM is an interesting insight into Korine’s development as an equivocal filmmaker, and while THE BEACH BUM is more restrained than its aesthetic demands, there is a hypnotic quality that lingers into the credits. However, the limitations of the style as a whole may mean that the character of Moondog outlives Korine’s script.