Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers will break your brain. If you’re still conscious when you walk out of the trash humping experience, the only thought your mind will be able to hold is this: “What the fuck just happened?” Stepping in to Trash Humpers is like taking a cinematic roofie — you’ll wake up an hour and a half later with your pants around your ankles, face planted in a drainage ditch, choking on someone else’s piss and beer. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lost memory of the experience, and the only telltale sign of what just happened will be the hobble in your walk.
But will you like Trash Humpers? That’s not really the right question to ask. Hormony Korine’s films (Gummo, Kids) aren’t something you like so much as endure, and even at a short 80-minute run time, Trash Humpers is an endurance test that most will have a difficult time completing. But if you can peel away the freak-show grotesquerie, there’s a lot of subtext to unpack and appreciate if you can get over your disgust long enough to explore what Trash Humpers is trying to say.
The overlying metaphor is easy enough to deduce from the title alone — but the principals, Harmony Korine and his sister among them, who wear masks that make them look like mentally-handicapped elderly burn victims — take pains to demonstrate that metaphor with as much shock and awe allowed through the visual medium. Trash Humpers is not a figurative title — these backwoods circus weirdos literally fuck trash. Vigorously. They go at trash bins like dogs in heat trying to fuck the skin off your leg. It’s not limited to trash, either: They’ll suck off tree branches, hump houses, and sexualize fire hydrants all the while moaning with the sick pleasure of a deviant masochist getting his testicles burned with a cigarette lighter.
What their actions are meant to represent is our larger society’s obsession with materialism and excess, and the way we sexualize status, status that’s borne out of ownership, particularly of those things we don’t need. Korine just cuts out the middle man: These people aren’t fucking the wealthy man, they’re fucking his wealth, represented by the shit he throws out.
And what better way, really, to make the ultimate anti-commercial sentiment than to make the ultimate anti-commercial movie? There’s nothing in Trash Humpers that even resembles a film. It’s VHS film blown up to 35mm projection, grainy and blurry. There’s no plot or story or framing devices or staging, lighting, narrative hook, denouement, or dialogue: It’s like the home video footage of most sexually depraved, prurient, messed up family of sickos and degenerates you could possibly imagine.
The other statement that Harmony Korine makes is just how quickly we accept that materialism and excess. There are a few absurd laughs in Trash Humpers, but for the most part, it’s shock and disgust and revulsion, which quickly gives way to numbness and boredom. And that’s kind of how we’ve become as a society, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how provocative or appalling something is, we accept it, bore of it, and move on (see, for instance, Two Girls and a Cup). If our apathy can extend to people fucking trash in less than 80 minutes, how can you expect anyone to work up much outrage over the systematic corporatization of American, much less the ridiculous portion sizes at The Olive Garden.
We are a nation of trash humpers, fetishists of wealth, and we’ve come to accept that in each other, like the anarchic, murdering, tree-fucking outcasts in Trash Humpers, who we not only come to accept, but even to sympathize with a bit by the end. Harmony Korine’s movie is a metaphorical reflection of our culture, which he holds up to our faces like a bloody fun house mirror and then break it over our heads.