In Defence of “The Brown Bunny”

Last November, after watching Vincent Gallo’s fantastic indie black comedy Buffalo ’66 (read my review here) and finding it to be a terrific, hilarious piece of independent cinema, I quickly acquired a copy of his second feature, The Brown Bunny. I’d heard things about this. It’s hard not to hear all the controversy. I read about Gallo’s argument with Roger Ebert following the initial Cannes screening, and I read Ebert’s later 3-star review of the 90-minute “edit” that eventually became the DVD. I read many, many reviews, because I found it interesting how many conflicted opinions there were. Some thought it was a brilliant work of art, others thought of it as self-indulgent, narcissistic crap. Then I watched the film, and I have to say, I mostly agreed. It was boring, almost tediously so, and despite the final excellent twist, it was a generally ugly film.

Then I rewatched it, just the other night, and almost completely changed my mind. It shocked me how much my opinion changed, just like Ebert’s, only my opinion was changing on a completely unchanged film. It was exactly the same movie, only it felt completely different when I rewatched it.

Gallo is a motorcyclist, travelling across the country after losing a race, making connections with strangers and refusing to admit the truth of a badly ended relationship. Now, I’m going to go through some of the scenes quickly and detail why this film is not garbage, nor self-indulgent. Quite the opposite.

It opens with a shaky shot (one I’m not particularly in favour of) of Gallo in a race, zooming around a circular course, never really going anywhere. His isolation and lone state is shown immediately. He then begins his driving journey, stopping first at a gas station and chatting to a young girl, Violet. He convinces her to go with him to California, but promptly ditches her. He stops at the house of the parents of his lost love, Daisy. The visit is in some ways like the ‘family’ visit in Buffalo ’66, though far less is said and there is very little tension. Throughout the rest of his journey, Gallo stops at a truck-stop and comforts a saddened middle-aged woman, becomes saddened upon finding out that bunnies have a life expectancy of no more than five years, buys a prostitute lunch, stores his motorcycle, goes to visit Daisy, and finally catches up with her in a long, tense motel room sequence in which disturbing truths are revealed.

The film has been trashed for its long, annoyingly slow pace, uneventful scenes, “egotistical” close-ups and sexual extremes. To call this film any of those things is, in my opinion, an insult to Gallo. This is his film, which he has poured his heart and soul into, and it is filled with little pieces of him… and, in the motel room, one big piece. Bud Clay is a lonely, lonely man. He is battling inner demons and at a war with self-loathing and personal frustration. Daisy means everything to him, and without her his mind is chaotic. He attempts to replace her with these girls with similar names. He hugs, kisses and fondles them affectionately but realizes none of them will give him what Daisy has. And I’m not talking about a blowjob.

There are only two things that matter to Bud: Daisy, and racing. Daisy is of course at #1, but throughout his long, painful journey he is unsure whether he’ll ever see her again. He reminds me in certain ways of Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy, which I watched only a couple of weeks ago. He is a man who likes to pretend. Pretend gives him the things he wants, but in the end, nothing is as good as the real thing.

In one shot of the film, my personal favourite, Bud gets on his motorcycle and drives off into the distance at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The single shot is constantly moving, following him into the wavy distance until he suddenly disappears. This is a metaphor for the films progression, and how it ends for him. He starts off beginning his journey but as he drives to get closer to Daisy, in reality he’s driving away from his fantasy and heading to a pearly white room where he will finally confront the truth, and all silly delusions of grandeur will disappear, like a speck in the distance, like a motorbike on the horizon.

The film, during its driving sequences, relies heavily on music, and Gallo’s tunes are well-chosen. Most of them are sombre, pacing songs which make the daunting distance so much quicker, and the driving shots themselves are often interesting to look at. The shots of Gallo are brilliant and showcase his fantastic acting skills. We see Bud Clay, a man staring through a windshield and looking at a lie, and we see the broad horizon of emotions in his face. Bad events have aged him horribly.

While the film may seem slow and uneventful to some, I see it as a canyon of possibilities. A picture tells a thousand words, a proverb says, and Gallo seems to be reinforcing that dialogue isn’t necessary to get across a poignant and heartbreaking message. This is a love story, in some ways, but I think a much better term for it is a tearjerking requiem for all the little things lost and all the senselessness of life where all it ever amounts to is moving, driving, keeping on going, wherein eventually we end up at the same place again, lost and confused.

My Rating: 7/10

Leave a comment with what you thought of my review, and let me know what your opinion of the movie was.

Thanks for reading.

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About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on May 12, 2011, in Filmmakers, Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. great review of a great film. thank you. it’s nice to know there are people out there who understand this massively underrated film.

    • I have actually read that before, but thanks for sharing. It was really funny to read again. You do realise it’s all a joke, right? And if this is just some ploy to make me hate Gallo, may I reassure you that it’s not him I love; it’s his movies. This was a clever and elaborately written joke by Gallo, although it certainly doesn’t help with the widespread popular belief that he’s a narcissist (a belief which he has contradicted many times in interviews).

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