Julien Donkey-Boy

Drama, 1999

Harmony Korine’s bold follow-up to the post-modern American gothic, glue-sniffing masterpiece Gummo (1997), is an inconsistent, but highly intriguing piece of work. For this effort, Korine employed the guidelines of the Dogme 95 movement (a Danish-born approach to filmmaking which strives to eliminate excess film techniques in favour of a certain realism) to help tell the story of Julien (Ewan Bremner), a schizophrenic who lives with his overbearing, cough-syrup drinking father (Werner Herzog), less-than-astounding amateur wrestler brother Chris (Evan Neumann) and pregnant sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny), the latter of whom provides the only constant source of understanding for Julien, speaking affectionately to him over the phone in the voice of their mother who died giving birth to Chris. 

The character of Julien was based around Korine’s schizophrenic uncle, and the majority of shooting was done in Korine’s grandmother’s house. The camera style is disorienting, employing a digital handheld approach that attempts to convey the erratic process of the schizophrenic mind. Very little of the dialogue was scripted and the plot constructed from rough outlines, which gives a conflicting overtone to the film. 

Prefacing a dark period of self doubt and drug use for Korine, this would be his last film for 9 years until releasing Mr. Lonely in 2008, a film with a more traditional sense of narrative craft, lacking the fearlessness with which Korine approached his earlier work. 

The DVD offers some deleted scenes and a making-of featurette that are not essential, but definitely worth checking out.  

— Colin Browne