Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

John Cho, Kal Penn, and Rob Corddry in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (dir. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, 2008).

The vulgar libertarianism (I guess the non-vulgar kind is plain old anarchy, which can be pretty vulgar itself) of South Park and other recent cultural productions is in full view in the new Harold & Kumar vehicle, and reveals itself predictably as the limited and limiting downward spiral of subversion and containment that it always is. The big payoff comes with the catch phrase delivered by a blunt-puffing George Bush, "You don't have to like your government to be a good American; you just have to love your country." The levels of irony and counterirony in this moment are so dense as to be opaque, and therefore negligible. It finally doesn't matter whether the Bush character or anyone else "means it" or not, let alone whether the phrase itself can be parsed into meaning anything at all.

All this, of course, is rendered beside the point if you are not so naive in the first place as to harbor the illusion that a popular movie can be a viable vessel of political resistance, assuming anyone connected with it ever even had that as an objective. In which case another fact about the picture emerges: it's funny as shit. It's funny in the same way that Cheech and Chong were funny for a few months in the seventies, before the pot smoke cleared and everyone could see that they'd been laughing at a condition of social abjection so large and irremediable they should really be crying. In other words, really funny, gallows funny, Rabelais-funny. The movie retreats into fantasy from the first frame onward, until it reaches a point of opiate denial so total that it approaches joy. The periodic demystifying gestures of romantic irony along the way are mere ruses, modes of deferral to increase the intensity of the final buzz.


Ryan said...

Irony too deep for its own bong?

Ryan said...

I'm wondering, though, if the mere mention of Guantanamo Bay in pop art couldn't work to subvert...the only question is, will those who still believe that governments don't do anything wrong actually go out and see this movie?

Stan Apps said...

You seem to be wearing "Jane Dark" drag in this review. . . Is this review indulging in opaque irony by sorta kinda seeming to be referring to another bloger?

K. Silem Mohammad said...

I just like to look pretty sometimes, Stan. Is that so wrong?

Nate Tyson said...

First time reader here, but I must say that I really love this review.

I had never considered the term "gallows humor" when referring to H&K, but you're pretty much dead-on.