Mumbo Jumbo at the Movies: Mister Lonely

You Can Live Forever

By KKUURRTT and Tex Gresham

Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely stars Diego Luna as a Michael Jackson impersonator who, one afternoon, meets Marilyn Monroe (played Samantha Morton) while performing at a Parisian old folk’s home. Marilyn invites Michael to come live with her as part of an off-the-grid commune in the Scottish Highlands. Here he meets and lives a relatively plain existence alongside Marilyn’s husband (Charlie Chaplin), daughter (Shirley Temple) and friends (Abraham Lincoln, The Pope, Madonna, Buckwheat, etc)… The film is intercut with a secondary tale of Nuns skydiving sans parachute as a miracle for the Lord. It is a tale of celebrity lookalikes and impersonators finding solace in companionship.

KKUURRTT: Given the chance to live life as someone else, who would you choose?

TEX: Roger Ebert.

K: Me too!

T: Was this your first time seeing this film?

K: Yeah.

T: Me too. And I don’t really know where to start, so I’ll just ask the question I wanted to ask halfway through the movie. In a year (2007) that saw many directors crafting almost-desperate (but still very good) Oscar bait (There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), is this Korine’s attempt at Oscar bait (i.e. winning an Oscar)?

K: It felt like that at the time, which is probably why I avoided this movie by one of my (otherwise) favorite filmmakers for so long. There’s this weird sensation that the movies you see in the now are transcendent, and movies you’ve seen long ago wane with time. Oscar bait always feels so desperate in the moment, like I can smell the pheromones and want nothing to do with it. But with the distance of literally no one caring about this movie for nigh on 10+ years, I can say with confidence that it doesn’t matter. There’s no retroactive Oscars. Kind of makes the whole process of winning awards seem rather foolish. The only thing that counts is the test of time. We’re not talking about No Country For Old Men in 2020 are we? Coen Whothers? 

T: Okay, cool.

Diego Luna as Michael Jackson, still from Mister Lonely (under fair use)

K: I think it’s Korine’s worst movie, but what’s that saying really? Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Trash Humpers, Spring Breakers and The Beach Bum are all borderline masterpieces in my mind. That being said, this is the only one that truly touches on the surreal.  

T: Totally. It’s definitely his weakest in that I don’t think he’s touching on anything that’s raw or untouchable like his other films—besides The Beach Bum and Spring Breakers, which are just anarchic responses to society. But the surreal aspect of the film—the nuns, the eggs, the smiley face sun, the postmodernity of people living as their celebrity lookalikes—felt like things that Korine threw into the movie in order to make it not be as normal as it really could. Because at its core, this is a really normal and boring story. Did you know that Harm only named it Julien Donkey-Boy because he liked the sound of John Barth’s overlong postmodern masterpiece Giles Goat-Boy.

K: No

T: Okay, cool, well I did. 

K: Was cracking up laughing at the scene where they’re driving through the city and Abraham Lincoln is on the back of Michael Jackson’s moped screaming about putting on the world’s greatest show. Thinking that the Hollywood-and-Highland-and-Times-Square-ification of seeing people dressed as celebrities out in the world as this incredibly strange thing that we just take for granted. It’s not normal at all. It’s incredibly abnormal. Hold on, let me climb into an oversized Spongebob Squarepants costume and take pictures with children. Yikes. What happens when they go home? Do ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Jack Sparrow’ have spouses? Who does the cooking? Do they ever break character? The nuns and the eggs and the sun DO feel like add ons. They never really fit the puzzle piece that is a pretty traditional story about a commune falling apart. The film has faith in its convictions though, no? Even if things turn up rotten in the end.

Skydiving nuns, a still from Mister Lonely (under fair use)

T: The sentiment behind the nuns and the commune is the same. And it is exactly that—having faith in their convictions. Only a few in that commune have faith in their convictions. The only one who truly does, Marilyn Monroe, [SPOILER] hangs herself at the end. The nuns who truly believe they are skydiving for God and must bring this gift to the Vatican [SPOILER] all die in a plane crash. Faith in conviction all the way until death is something we look at as foolish, but is truly an admirable quality. Everyone else in the commune is merely playing a part. Michael Jackson even goes so far as to [SPOILER] cut his hair and become a “normal person” again.

K: The cutting the hair segment isn’t played as this tragic moment though, it’s redemptive. I guess the film is asking its characters (and viewers) to believe in themselves and not whatever thing they’d been holding onto. Which I guess is a bit of Korine looking to believe in himself as he transitions out of Dogme-95 grain tone and warped character study into bright and beautiful Hollywood sheen (still with warped character studies). Mister Lonely feels like a direct correlation to this pivot in Korine’s career. It’s like he’s cutting his hair and growing up a bit.  Feels strange to have missed it. Feels strange to have happened. 

T: It does feel strange. All of it. And it is very strange. From the start of the film and up until the old folks home (which is one of the weirdest moments I’ve watched in the last like 2-3 months), Diego Luna’s Michael Jackson feels like a joke. Like a strange, pomo thing. And then Marilyn walks in and suddenly these two people dressed up as these celebrities are then accepted by us (the viewers) as actual characters in this movie. Which is such a weird goddamn move for Korine to make. We are watching a movie of actors acting like other actors, but they’re doing really normal (and sometimes very cruel things). Look, I gotta ask: what the hell’s up with the eggs?

Still from Mister Lonely (under fair use)

K: Eggs in a musical number nonetheless. Look this movie is called Mister Lonely not Mister Has Lots of Friends. The mind does weird-ass shit when you’re disconnected from other people entirely. He had a dozen friends and a dozen eggs and he could for a moment dream that all was right in the world again. Always able to remember the times they had before it all cracked up. You’re not questioning Wilson the Volleyball in Castaway are you?  Fucking asshole so stupid.

T: The singing eggs thing felt like Harm saw Magnolia the night before and went “Wanna do dat” in between bong rips.

K: Both movies, at their core, are about the darkness that can consume a soul while it navigates the outskirts of the entertainment industry.

T: Well there ya have it, folks: Mister Lonely is just Harmony Korine’s remake of Magnolia.

K: Shot-for-shot.

T: Up next: Kurt and I’s greenscreen-only shot-for-shot remake of Ishtar (directed by Werner Herzog).

K: You wanna do Ishtar next month?

T: No.

K: This movie made me feel less alone. Sure, we’re in a time where we’ve been stuck in our houses for eight months and actual connection is limited, but I’m grateful for the squadron of like-minded freaks I’ve found on Twitter this year. Babou 691 is our Scottish Highlands commune. You’ve been doing a spot-on David Foster Wallace thing for a while now. 

T: Fucking asshole so stupid. Well you’re like… Like… You look like—whatever. I can’t think of anyone you look like. But if I can stay on track for a second. I think you’ve hit something there, about the core of this movie. Trying to find a way to not be so lonely. That’s what everyone in this movie’s trying to do. Find convictions in the faith, faith in the convictions, and to not be lonely. 

K: That ain’t so surreal.

T: No it is not.

Mister Lonely also stars Denis Lavant, Werner Herzog, Rachel Korine and Leos Carax. KKUURRTT and Tex are frequent collaborators. Together they host a postmodern film podcast with the same name as this column.

KKUURRTT is glad you read his thing. His novel Good at Drugs is forthcoming from Alien Buddha Press. He can be found on Twitter at @wwwkurtcom.

Tex Gresham is the author of Heck, Texas (Atlatl Press). His work has appeared in Hobart, F(r)iction, The Normal School, BOOTH, and Back Patio Press. He lives in Las Vegas with his partner and kid. He’s on Twitter as @thatsqueakypig and online at