You would think I would find it endearing when independent filmmaker Harmony Korine makes an appearance in a documentary on Norwegian black metal (Until the Light Takes Us), but nothing could save that meandering, formless film from mediocrity. I wanted to find it fascinating – this was a documentary about Satanic black metal bands who burned churches and scoured the underbelly of the underworld for meaning, after all. I wanted to know why these people behaved as they did – why they saw the world as they did. But the film gave no answers, and Harmony Korine’s appearance was simply an anomalous blip on the radar. I guess he is a fan of Norwegian black metal, and inexplicably so.

That being said, that one appearance sums up my feelings about Korine’s films, and I am sure he would take this as a compliment. I turned off Gummo after 10 minutes, and I barely survived his Dogme ’95 piece, Julien Donkey-Boy. After my friend Danny J. Gibson saw his latest film, Trash Humpers, he advised me never to go near it, ever. He ended up fast-forwarding through most of it himself – again, probably just what Harmony Korine would want (again, inexplicably). How is it possible, then, that I absolutely love his “big budget” (i.e. 8 million USD) film Mister Lonely? It’s a good question, and one I do not necessary have an answer for.

Primarily, I have to attribute my love of this film to two things: 1) My growing appreciation for Werner Herzog’s body of work (Surely it is no coincidence that he plays a character in Mister Lonely), and 2) An essay I read in film school by Tom Gunning about the “Cinema of Attractions.”

Like Herzog’s films, Mister Lonely takes the long route to get from point A to point B, and when I say this I do not mean it is slow. It simply follows the sort of idiosyncratic logic that one might expect to find in a Herzog film. The narratives it contains are linear, but they are filtered through a cinematic kaleidoscope of color and sound and beautifully strange sights that could easily stand alone as short-films.

And this is where the Cinema of Attractions comes in. This film really is something like going to the circus and seeing one attraction after another. Each exhibit holds the attention of the audience precisely because it is so strange. Above all, this aspect of the film recalls nothing so much as the introductory sequences of Federico Fellini’s Satyricon. While these vignettes could exist independently of one another, they work together to form two separate narratives that never really overlap. The results somehow feel right, but it’s hard to say why. There is some genius in that, I think.

The main narrative focuses on a Michael Jackson impersonator and his experiences as he discovers other impersonators who channel Marilyn Monroe, Abe “F——” Lincoln, Charlie Chaplin, and James Dean, among others. This cast of characters lives together in circus of strangeness, and the results are magnetic. The other narrative focuses on a priest (Herzog) and a group of nuns who experience a miracle when one of them falls out of a plane and lands on the ground unharmed.

Overall, the film struck me much as a very abstract painting might: I didn’t know what I was looking at, but I knew I liked it. Most films are not brave enough to attempt this, and most films that attempt this manage to lose cohesion along the way or never find a way to make the audience invest in what they are watching. Mister Lonely works where other films of its ilk do not. I cannot explain how difficult it is for a film like this to hold a person’s attention for an hour, let alone almost two. But Mister Lonely was wildly successful in this for me, and for that reason I own it.