|Matthew Mcconaughey as Moondog in Harmony Korine's The Beach Bum, 2019.|
The Beach Bum comes as a surprise then, because it is perhaps the most unashamedly cartoon happiness which Hollywood has ever produced. It has taken director Harmony Korine a series of struggles to reach this harmony, from the “loser-gang freak collective” of Trash Humpers to the youthful lust for chaotic crime in Spring Breakers (the only work of moving images I saw in its release year, 2012).
Starring Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, The Beach Bum is a completely fresh form of feelgood film. Moondog is a free-spirit, constantly high, drunk, fornicating, eating, sleeping, completely aimlessly and shamelessly. He carries a typewriter for when inspiration hits, using the ingenious two-finger method to type out his poetry on curiously clean paper, considering his bumming around. There is an element of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and of The Big Lebowsky. But no trips are ever bad, and no encounter is a cause for true worry. And thus, nearly every review will scorn this film, both for the lack of adversity and for letting reckless behavior pass without any moral lesson learned. Critics and average viewers seem to agree – “a pretty stupid movie about a pretty stupid guy doing pretty stupid things”. But there is an actual plot here, a Homeric Odyssey undertaken by our hero. He faces obstacles and helpers, on a path which leads to no maturity or spiritual enlightenment.
Throughout the film Moondog runs with the rich and the poor, sleeping at the pier with hobos, partying at yachts and beautiful mansions. Outlaws abound, and Moondog humors anyone, as long as there is food, drinks, women and weed. He runs in with the law, and offers them to inhale. When this fails, he offers his arrest, if this would bring them joy. “Moondog is from another dimension”. He refers to his condition as a reverse-paranoia, "I’m quite certain that the world is conspiring to make me happy".
As alien as his endless joy in life may seem, he does share features with some fellow beastly astronauts of the earthship: He hangs out and smokes an enormous amount of weed with Snoop Dogg. Then there’s his namesake, Moondog (1932-1999), a composer living on the streets of New York, making the kind of music one would imagine such a life would inspire. Finally, there is the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes. Widely referred to as a cynic, derived from kynikos, which means dog. This was used as a derogatory term, as Diogenes lived with the doglike dignity of a stray. The philosopher would eat, defecate and masturbate in public ("If only it were so easy to soothe hunger by rubbing an empty belly"). Lastly, Moondog finds kin not only among humans with canine traits, but also with human's close relative, bonobo apes. Whereas our other close cousin, chimpanzees greet strangers with fists and sticks, bonobos greet strangers by sticking tongues and genitals in body openings. Moondog is no stranger to such greetings.
Korine has stated that the movie was made as a response to the election of US president Donald Trump. It is perhaps the best response to Trump thus far. With a big crybaby in the White House, there are calls for what French philosopher Jean Baudrillard in his road trip book America called "the last primitive society" to grow up. But the problem of primitivism lies not in childish play nor in unjust heroes, but in heroics at all. Moondog is the hero that never can be, as he lacks any concern with doing good, but also because so few of us seem to share Moondog's love of life. I once had an argument with a political radical about beach boys. He insisted that the narcissism of semi-undressed body-focused guys bumming around on sand and in water was pitiful. Climate breakdown shows that we need more people willing to waste their lives. Moondog is the hero our children should look up to. Moondog for president.