In Paris, a young American who works as a Michael Jackson lookalike meets Marilyn Monroe, who invites him to her commune in Scotland, where she lives with Charlie Chaplin and her daughter, Shirley Temple.
A series of hazy 8mm vignettes, accompanied by a soft, lilting voice over, in which girls skulk around schoolyards, spray graffiti, drink, smoke, pose and embrace, evoking the loneliness, confusion and overwhelming wonder of growing up.
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"O, mio babbino caro" plays as a woman skates gracefully. In contrast, little is graceful and daddy is not dear in Julien's world. His father listens to blues wearing a gas mask; dad prods, lectures, and derides Julien as well as Julien's brother and pregnant sister, while grandma attends to her dog. Julien is different, schizophrenic. He wears gold teeth. He bowls, sings, worships, and chats with a group of young adults with disabilities. His sister's child is probably his own. He talks on the phone, imagining it's his mother, who died in childbirth years before. He may be a murderer of children. From his point of view (perhaps), the film follows this odd family for a few weeks. Written by
The character played by Werner Herzog tells a story of a soldier, accompanying Pizarro, caught in an ambush, just about to be shot, who sings "Little mother, two by two, wafts the wind on my hair." In Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), which Herzog directed, a character recites those very lines. See more »
Somewhat reflexive presentation about schizophrenia
Do not expect to be entertained, and do not expect to be overwhelmed by the aesthetic of this film. Julien Donkey Boy is no more beautiful than its subject. Harmony Korine, in directing and writing this film, has done exactly what he set out to do - he has created a concentrated dose of family life with schizophrenia. In saying that the experience is concentrated, what I mean is that the film uses exaggeration rather liberally in order to condense its somewhat impossibly defined subject matter. Although there are certainly interwoven story arcs for the main characters, there is no central plot, no linearity, no unfragmented reality. The film itself, therefore, is just a little unhinged.
One of my older sisters was schizophrenic. You would have to condense a couple decades worth of her psychotic episodes into a couple of hours to get anywhere near the level of constant distress that is depicted in this film. I most closely related to the character of Pearl, Julien's pregnant sister, but recognized aspects of my own family in all of the characters. What I am trying to say is that there is certainly some truth to what this movie says and the archetypal characters portrayed, its truth may be hard to recognize if you haven't lived through it.
Living with a schizophrenic will bring out and amplify your own nature
and if you are open to it, you will be a better person. It is also,
however, fairly easy to allow the experience to overwhelm you. People who have never been exposed to schizophrenia in any but a superficial way will find most of the film's characters and vignettes very difficult to believe. I am pretty sure Korine knew this going in.
Korine has portrayed schizophrenia in a sensitive and truthful, but nevertheless utterly disturbing and somewhat unrealistically condensed way. Every directorial decision is meant to create a sense of realism. The method is very effective, and the film is essentially successful. Julien intentionally and clearly positions its audience as voyeurs, using hand-held photography almost exclusively and allowing character- development (the bulk of the film) to dictate the pace and rhythm of every scene. All of the acting is superb, and although there are very few feel-good moments in this film, it may be somewhat cathartic for folks like me, and somewhat (painfully) enlightening for those who grew up in less dysfunctional, or more-traditionally dysfunctional, families.
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