The Terrible Infant Speaks

Harmony Korine talks about his new movie Mister Lonely and coming home.

Leaving the basement, he claps his blackened hands together and brushes them on his pants. On the way to the front door, he pauses at the tidy kitchen sink and washes his hands. If Harmony Korine can't entirely escape his past, at least he's managing to keep it confined.

This film definitely seems more accessible.

I don't even know if it is, actually. I guess narratively it is. But it was more that there were these characters I was interested in, these things, these images that I was kind of curious about. I'd always been attracted to marginalized characters that live outside of social norms — people that create their own ... language. Dreamers. Tramps. So I just started dreaming about some of these characters, and these images, and I just felt that the story was interesting enough and unique enough and the characters were beautiful enough that it didn't need to be told in a way that was deconstructed. I just wanted to make the story simple.

I think the films reflect the mental state at the time you're making them. Making the other films, I had a very strong idea of cinema, a specific kind of cinema, and the way I wanted to watch movies, that was very much about collage — a chaos narrative, a kind of noise narrative. I didn't care about making sense. I wanted to make perfect nonsense. I wanted images coming from all directions, falling out of the sky. Gummo was like that, and to an extent Julien. But with this film, it wasn't that I'm not interested in making movies the way I had before; it was that these particular characters in some ways were quieter. I didn't feel like I needed to break anything down; I just wanted to paint pictures, kind of.

Were the nun story and the Michael Jackson story ever separate movies?

In the beginning, when I was first working with Avi, we were thinking of it as two different movies, or as something with the same story but the characters somehow inhabiting both worlds. But at a certain point I knew we were going to do away with one. I knew it was going to be controversial in that the stories never necessarily come together in a cemented way. But I felt that both narratives were speaking to the same idea: that there was an emotional connection, that there was a thematic connection — that in some ways the two stories danced with each other.

But I felt pretty sure that a certain kind of person would just think that it was gibberish — and I don't dispute that either. I don't even really care, you know what I'm saying? It felt right. It felt right that they were both part of the same story: they're both stories about people who live outside of the system, who create their own world — you could even call it transcendence, wanting to be other than who you are. And mostly this idea that if you believe strongly enough, magic is possible. You can push the limits of who you are.

And yet all the characters seem doomed by that quality — by the talent that sets them apart.

I feel like it's always interesting to see people who construct their own reality and kind of build a fortress around it, and then watch as someone breaks it down and kicks their ass (laughs). It's almost like kids who are homeschooled — life is great when you're in your living room with your parents, but there's some guy waiting down the street with a baseball bat to get to you.

How much of the movie is improvised? There's that great scene with Werner Herzog as the priest, where he gets this man to confess that he cheated on his wife. Was any part of that real?

That scene was really special. I was setting up for another scene in Panama, where my parents live, and there's an airport in the jungle. And out of the corner of my eye I saw Herzog talking to this guy who was holding these plastic roses, and he was crying. And I walked up to Werner and said, "What's going on?" And he said, "Please, put the camera on me quick, something special is about to happen." And what you saw, in reality, is very close to the truth.

Here's this guy who's like the village idiot. The first time I went and visited my parents a couple of years earlier, I had seen him, and he tried to attack Rachel. He was pretending to be a passport agent, right, but he had no shoes on, and he was saying, "Where's your passport, bitch?" and all this stuff. I just thought he was a kook and never really paid that much attention. What we learned was that about four years prior, his wife had left him, and left with another man. And so what he does every day, at the same time each day, he waits at the airport holding these roses for his wife to step off the airplane.

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