Mister Lonely is more of a dream than a film. You are stuck with distinct, razor-sharp images and very vague details. Recounting it is no different: "There was a person in it who was Michael Jackson, but he wasn't Michael Jackson, and then there were flying nuns, somewhere kind of tropical, and the sheep were sick and they had to be shot.... No doubt it is a dream, but a dream that Harmony Korine has decided to share with us in the form of a film. Contrary to his other work, Mister Lonely is decidedly more optimistic. If Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy embraced pessimism without regard for hope, Mister Lonely wholeheartedly embraces optimism in the face of despair. The fact that such a strange and silly film would be full of unexplained beauty and joy, that is both innocent and contemporary, makes it all the more charming.
Although most plot descriptions will tell you that Mister Lonely is about a commune of impersonators, there are actually two simultaneous narratives (and I use the term 'narrative' very loosely.) The first revolves around Marilyn Monroe, played achingly by Samantha Morton, and Micheal Jackson, played by the gentle Diego Luna. Marilyn persuades Michael to leave his minimal existence in Paris as a street performer for a utopian colony of impersonators, "where everyone is famous," including Charlie Chaplin, Sammy Davis Jr., The Pope, Madonna, James Dean, Abe Lincoln, and so on. Reality and fantasy exist hand-in-hand in this society of misfits. The second storyline involves a tough-love priest (played without irony by Werner Herzog) who works with a group of fun loving nuns to drop ship food in some unnamed country from his small airplane. When a nun mistakenly falls from the airplane, she puts her life in the hands of God and lands on the ground unscathed. Propelled by their belief, all the nuns take the leap of faith. Not only do they miraculously survive the jump from the plane, but proclaim that they are able to "fly."
These kitschy stories are told with tenderness and thought, free from the struggle to connect the dots or make some sort of comprehensive sense. The reflective tone of the film sets the viewer loose from the normal ties that bind a plot driven story. The narrative is only loosely tied together by a series of vignettes. Each scene has its own weight either visually or symbolically—from the group of impersonators doing Tai Chi in mosquito net hats to Buckwheat washing The Pope. The images of the nuns flying through the air, engulfed in the blue sky, is an image that I will carry with me. Similar is the opening and closing shots of Michael riding on one of those miniature motorcycles around a track in slow motion, accompanied by a stuffed monkey attached to the motorcycle by a wire that extends a couple feet out—it is a moment full of a glee and mystery that absolutely fascinated me.
Mister Lonely's death certificate seemed to be signed at Cannes almost two years ago. It received mixed reviews, and seems unfairly tossed aside with little chance of recovery. At least not enough recovery for a real theatrical distribution. I feel somewhat cheated that I didn't get to see Mister Lonely on the big screen, with those surreal and iconic images floating before me, larger than life.
Harmony Korine has never been one to play his cards close to his chest, and Mister Lonely is no different, boldly doing things his own way. For most directors, it would be a brave act; a huge risk; a career defining move. But for Korine, it is simply what he does. The result is mesmerizing and completely original.
Mister Lonely is now available on DVD.
Watch the trailer for Mister Lonely here.