I’ll tell you what… People have often told me, upon having a look at what’s on tap, that my Netflix queue is a library of the arcane, bizarre, caustic and depraved. There is some truth in that. My film journey has taken me to some strange places. That’s no exaggeration. I am the guy that will to to that place, nearly every single time. That’s not to say, especially in recent months, that it doesn’t wind through a lot of mainstream action and drama. It’s just a question of willingness to explore.
With that said, TUSK, the 2014 shitshow by KEVIN SMITH, is as strange a movie as I’ve ever seen. This very darkest of comedies is so absurd that it’s actually too far in to even be considered disturbing. The photo gallery above is rather a spoiler, but not even so much that you wouldn’t be surprised by the plot, and thankfully there is a plot. Overall though it does look like they made it up as they went along, continually asking the question, “What would make this even more ridiculous?” The intent is very obviously to make audiences cringe, and they do take the cringe title with this. The only film I’ve ever seen that would come close and maybe even equal the tight shoulders and watching with one eye closed experience might be SWISS ARMY MAN. There is really nothing that would prepare a viewer for either of these movies. File this under “Films That Might Make DAVID LYNCH Shake His Head. That’s not just namedropping. It’s just that if you think you know weird because you’ve seen a few David Lynch movies, you’re wrong.
Backtracking just a bit, I’m thinking about movie genres here. Tusk may fall, if not so neatly, into the GRINDHOUSE category. It’s got all the elements except maybe the action. It definitely defines exploitative, though exploiting what is a bit more murky. It does also fall into the common film theme of questioning the lines between mankind and animals. What exactly does it take to cross the line between the two and which direction is evolution or devolution? That’s all really secondary, or perhaps even tertiary here to just the bizarre imagery.
I’d also say it does tentatively approach an interesting question about internet culture, where exploitation of the lonely and obviously damaged for cheap laughs is regular thing. It’s not a leap with this. The central character, because there is nobody you’d call a protagonist in Tusk, has made his name and fortune on taking advantage of people in his popular podcast. He’s created an “atrocity exhibition,” to borrow from J.G. BALLARD that has even horrified his girlfriend. She expresses to him that she doesn’t like the character that has consumed the man she fell in love with. This is a very real phenomenon that I’ve witnessed over and over and at points even in myself. Start a running theme and start playing to the cheap seats, even at the expense of your authentic self and all your values. Popularity of any kind, even of the anonymous sort, is intoxicating. That began long before the internet. The earliest example of anyone bringing this to light that comes to mind is Contrad’s NOSTROMO which is basically a story of a man so desperate to be the hero of all people that he becomes lost in his public portrayal of himself. (The entire story isn’t all that simple, but the element plays a huge role.)
Tusk then isn’t an entirely stupid movie. It’s quite the opposite. There are important themes and messages, but they are buried and wrapped in a burrito of the bizarre. No regrets on my part. I’ve seen too much to say that this is an anomaly. Were someone to describe this movie as I just have I would definitely make it a point to see it, so I’m not feigning any intellectual superiority here. I’m merely relaying an opinion.