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Film / Julien Donkey-Boy

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Julien Donkey-Boy is a 1999 Avant-Garde Film by Harmony Korine. It tells the story of the titular Julien (Ewen Bremner), a Paranoid Schizophrenic man living in New York with his pregnant sister, Pearl (Chloë Sevigny, Korine's girlfriend at the time), his aspiring Wrestler brother, Chris (Evan Neumann), and their Robitussin swigging, gas mask wearing, bluegrass-loving father (German Director Werner Herzog). Also grandma (Korine's grandmother, Joyce). Supporting characters include a no-armed, relentlessly positive Drummer (Alvin Law), a Black Albino straight from Alabama (Victor Varnado), an innocent, near blind girl (Chrissy Kobylak), and a Professional Cigarette-Eater (Tom Mullica). Lacking a traditional narrative, Julien Donkey-Boy presents a series of vignettes following these bizarre characters in their daily lives.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Zig Zagging. At some points Dad seems eccentric, a bit stern, but loving, other times he's calling Pearl a "Dilettante and a slut," and paying Chris $10 to put on his dead mother's dress and dance with him. 'Cause he "Looks the most like your mother."
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Julien's father goes through extreme mood swings during the movie. When he's not performing strange acts like drinking from his sandal or dancing alone while wearing a gas mask, he's occasionally depressed for no reason and becomes abusive to his kids. He's also prone to go on bizarre tangents and will occasionally try to bribe Julien into dressing in his mother's clothes.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: No matter how well intentioned the reason is, posing as a schizophrenic person's dead mother over the phone is heavily frowned upon in the psychiatric field. Studies show that playing into someone's psychosis will worsen their condition as it further blurs their understanding between reality and delusion. 
  • Action Prologue: Debatable, but Julien's encounter with a young boy and his turtle definitely gives you some clues into the nature of his psyche.
  • Big Brother Bully: Julien beats the shit out of Chris in one scene which is cut like an extremely rapid slide show.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Mom's dead, grandma's emotionally absent at best, dad's an abusive Cloud Cuckoolander, Julien is a paranoid schizophrenic, Pearl is carrying his incest baby and pretends to be his mom over the phone, and Chris drives himself to the point of self-abuse in his quest to become a famous wrestler.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Julien is the father of Pearl's baby. The exact circumstances of how or why this happened are only obliquely referenced in a series of polaroids.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Pearl tripping while skating and suffering a miscarriage. Chloe Sevigny's performance, particularly the gut-wrenching scream she lets out as she falls, makes it one of the most emotionally raw and gut-wrenching things Harmony Korine has ever filmed.
  • Cool-Down Hug: Pearl gives one to Julien when Dad's verbal abuse causes him to start slapping himself in the face over and over while emotionally melting down. The way she sort of straddles him while doing so implies that situations like this are the origin of their incestuous relationship.
  • Downer Ending: Pearl trips while skating and has a miscarriage. Julien steals the baby's corpse from the hospital and takes the bus home, where he curls up in his bed while cradling it with a Thousand-Yard Stare.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Dad has nothing but contempt for his kids' dreams, telling Chris that he'll never be a wrestler and Pearl that she'll never be good at the harp.
  • Le Film Artistique: It's Harmony Korine. Also Dogme '95.
  • Germanic Depressives: Dad is an extremely melancholic German man who takes out his own feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction on his kids.
  • Godwin's Law: At one point Julien brandishes a BB gun at a poster of Adolf Hitler. "You killed the Jews, you killed the Hippies, you killed all the mothers' titties!"
  • Gospel Revival Number: In one notable scene, moving Julien to tears.
  • Hearing Voices: Julien hallucinates Jesus telling him leave the church because he's too sinful to be saved, among other things.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Dad's dislike of "Artsy-Fartsy" things. Considering he's played by Werner Herzog, this is likely intentional.
  • The Ingenue: Pearl, in contrast to every other character, is a very innocent and kindhearted person with a passion for ballet, religious hymns, and the harp. Ultimately subverted in that she's carrying her brother's child, but the film makes no moral judgment on this and it's implied to be the end result of the abusive environment they were raised in.
  • Mood-Swinger: Dad. Considering his daily habits, he's clearly not a stable individual. Julien himself also counts. Truth in Television.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: The film feels like a series of home movies mashed together since it lacks any real narrative for the most part. Most scenes have the characters going about their day and events like Julien accidentally murdering a child in the beginning are never mentioned again. This results in many examples on this page having no context, as the movie doesn't give them any.
  • Promotion to Parent: Pearl takes on a motherly role for Julien, which extends into a sexual relationship between them.
  • Purity Personified: Pearl, pregnancy notwithstanding.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the praises this movie gets is it's accurate portrayal of schizophrenia. Harmony disliked how other films would romanticize mental illnesses and wanted to avoid this by having Ewen Bremner research his role by studying how his schizophrenic uncle acts.
  • Signature Style: Continues Gummo's practice of interspersing faded polaroids, Documentary footage, and unusually photographed vignettes into a non standard Narrative. Adds to it the principles of Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg's Dogme 95 Movement, including extensive hand held camerawork, an eschewing of non-diegetic music, filming in grainy Digital Video, and leaving the director uncredited (Though Korine did include his name in the credits, just not with "Directed By").