Harmony Korine's latest directorial effort got off to a rocky start, its $1.8 million opening marking an all-time low for lead actor Matthew McConaughey. Even a week from release, it has yet to make back its $5 million budget.
The Beach Bum already faced an uphill battle, releasing against Hotel Mumbai and a major Disney remake, but its lukewarm critical reception didn't help. Reviewers have pointed to its lack of narrative structure and glorification of chaotic behaviors among its primary flaws.
Korine's work has been deemed morally questionable before. While some believed Spring Breakers was a brilliant piece of social commentary about the nature of female empowerment, others believed it was nothing more than pointless exploitation. Richard Roeper hypothesized that this divisiveness was likely intentional, that viewers were asking precisely the questions they were meant to ask.
If The Beach Bum unsettles some viewers, then it may be worth taking a moment to consider why. Whether intentional or not, Korine's latest film raises a number of questions that challenge our virtues, our life choices, and the relationship between our internal reality and our external one. The following are just 10 of the complex issues you may find yourself pondering by the time the credits roll.
Warning: This fever dream of a movie does contain a few surprises, so get ready for possible spoilers.
10. What Is Personal Space?
Moondog, the free-spirited poet portrayed by McConaughey, doesn't care much for personal space. When Moondog's literary agent (played by a delightfully hammy Jonah Hill) grabs Moondog by the crotch and critiques its size, Moondog merely laughs and grabs Lewis in return. This odd exchange appears normal for them, a unique expression of their friendship.
"Unique" is the operative word here. Every relationship works by its own rules, and these two have come to the mutual understanding that there's nothing wrong with an occasional crotch squeeze. Moondog and Frank, his daughter's fiancée, have not reached this agreement. When Moondog wraps his fist around Frank's tallywacker and nicknames him "Limp Dick," Frank is less than amused.
Frank's reaction is natural. Experts on neuroscience believe that everyone has an instinctive bubble. We intuitively understand that there is a difference between what the study of proxemics labels as "public distance" and "intimate distance." The spaces between these two can be inhabited by those we trust to varying degrees, while we prefer to keep most others out.
Since Moondog has no bubble whatsoever, he doesn't see this. He doesn't see that, while there's nothing sexual in his actions against his son-in-law, he could legally be considered guilty of sexual assault. Life without a bubble, as much as he enjoys it, could actually be incredibly dangerous.
What allows Moondog to forgo personal space as he does with Lewis, whereas someone like Frank might suffer very real trauma from a similar encounter? Is it merely a neurological difference? Or is it possible to pop one's own bubble, allowing the interpersonal distances described in proxemics to remain entirely undefined? The Beach Bum's crotch-grabbers, much like Seinfeld's close-talker, don't seem to require a buffer zone of any type. Despite neurological evidence that this bubble is instinctive, perhaps its maintenance is entirely self-imposed.