‘River Of Fundament’ Sounds Like Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Greatest Performance To Date

Senior Writer
02.19.14 15 Comments

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Written and directed by Matthew Barney, River of Fundament seems unlike any movie that you or I have ever heard of, mainly because I hadn’t heard of it until today. The film’s cast is anchored by Paul Giamatti and Maggie Gyllenhaal, among others, but its plot makes about as much sense as ancient Egyptian writing. And I say that because the plot has something to do with ancient Egypt.

… a radical reinvention of Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings. In collaboration with composer Jonathan Bepler, Barney combines traditional modes of narrative cinema with filmed elements of performance, sculpture, and opera, reconstructing Mailer’s hypersexual story of Egyptian gods and the seven stages of reincarnation, alongside the rise and fall of the American car industry.

The film’s central scene is an abstraction of Mailer’s wake, set in a replica of the late author’s apartment in Brooklyn Heights and featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Paul Giamatti, Elaine Stritch, Ellen Burstyn, Joan La Barbara, and jazz percussionist Milford Graves. Alluring and intense, this epic, multidimensional experience is a sprawling allegory of death and rebirth within the contemporary American landscape.

Sounds artistic and fart-snifferific enough, sure, but once you start diving into the various reviews of River of Fundament, you come across some very absurd descriptions of the characters that Giamatti and Gyllenhaal play, and then absolutely nothing in the world makes sense. For starters, Giamatti plays some kind of pampered pharaoh who likes to talk about feces, but that’s nothing compared to this description of Gyllenhaal’s role

The actress plays an adult version of Hathfertiti, Mailer’s medium for rebirth. After briefly appearing in a scene where she milks her own breast, Hathfertiti sits down with the ancient Pharaoh Usermare to reveal their kinship and state her case for continually bringing Mailer back to life. What could be a simple conversation is Gyllenhaal sing-speaking to a decaying old man while naked extras dance, spray water out of their orifices, and play each others butts like trumpets. Quick insert shots to a decay pig corpse from the wake dinner remind the audience that it must reek in the room. If there was an Oscar given for “Most Ecstatic Chaos Endured During the Filming of a Movie,” it would go to Gyllenhaal. (Via THR)

That’s right, butt trumpets. This is what happens when a typically serious actress like Gyllenhaal goes too far out of her element with a goofball film like White House Down and tries to swerve back to seriousness with an over-the-top art film that leads to her milking herself while dancing people squirt around her. It’s basically like a Thursday at the UPROXX mansion.

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