The Brown Bunny (2003)

Leaving narrative conventions behind, Vincent Gallo races into the ether of art-house cinema with The Brown Bunny. If Buffalo ’66 was an examination of a character, then The Brown Bunny is an absorption of a character. Explanation takes a back seat to observation, often soaking in the landscape that passes by as life continues.

The Brown Bunny has the smallest fragments of a narrative. Motorcycle racer Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo) is making his way to California after a race and along the way stumbles into the lives of several women he meets along the way. What happens doesn’t constitute affairs, but the smallest sparks of a romance that Bud quickly abandons before it has time to turn into anything else.

Bud shares similarities to Buffalo ‘66’s Billy in that his relationship to women is often expressed passionately, but he has an almost prepubescent shyness and reserve about him. Unlike Billy, he has no problem making out with these women, but anything more than that has Bud running away, making his trek down the highway in search of the next spark to keep him lit for a brief moment.

And since the film simply observes these events, it’s left to the audience to construct what constitutes Bud as a character along this trip. Is he facing some sexual anxiety or does he simply only fall in love with the idea of love and then moves on when commitment becomes a possibility? Is there a girl waiting for him somewhere, keeping his conscious as a constant nagging thread to return to the highway once more?

The film finally does shed light on why Bud is the way he is, solidifying a particular notion of why he’s treated these women so strangely throughout the film. And while this does allow the film to end with a “satisfying” resolution, it begs the question if all the time spend in suspense before, wondering about this character, is necessary if so much vagueness is finally cleared up by the end.

In other words, for a film that spends the first hour and fifteen minutes leaving the audience in the dark, letting them extrapolate and form their own ideas about who this character is and why he behaves this way, it’s frustrating to have the film whisk away that investment of projection and interpretation by coming out with an explanation at the end.

Still, this conclusion does solidify the film’s ability to make Bud a sympathetic character despite how abnormal he is throughout the film. Gallo’s desire to make the audience sympathetic with that which constitutes a contradictory and problematic character is a sign of his ability to create an emotionally memorable experience, but he sacrifices the pleasure of the artistic engagement of interpretation along the way.

Whether or not one likes The Brown Bunny probably depends on whether or not they’re willing to surrender to that emotional experience. For most it will be a moot point as the languid pacing and the quiet journey will likely lead them to boredom. It’s a shame that the primary form of engaging the film, that of fabricating the character’s past, is at odds with the explanation Gallo constructs by the end of the film.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing