From its strange beginning until its truly shocking conclusion, the movie is marvelously repulsive. There are few films that engender repugnance as their dominant emotional reaction, and of those few that do only a handful are not utterly puerile. Pink Flamingos, however, is a sophisticated, engaging work that leaves the viewer completely aghast at the spectacle being played out before him.
Such feelings of disgust are effectively aroused and maintained by the endless, carnivalesque parade of disturbing moments with which Pink Flamingos is filled. Cotton, Divine's son, has sexual appetites which include the brutal use of chickens. Her obese, mentally ill mother lives in a baby's playpen, wears nothing but her underwear, and is obsessed with eggs. Divine herself performs oral sex on her son, urinates in public, commits murder, and consumes a dog's feces. At her birthday party, a man demonstrates his ability to open and contract his anus, and her guests cannibalize some unfortunate policemen. The list goes on and on.
Waters does not, however, depend solely on such depictions to elicit feelings of revulsion from the viewer, but also brings in other threads which considerably enhance those emotions. For example, popular perceptions of criminals as celebrities and consequent meditations on the nature of celebrity are prominent themes in Pink Flamingos, as they are in most of John Water's films. By using such reflections to implicate society as somehow responsible for the various actions of the protagonists, the director causes the viewer to feel repulsed not only by what he is shown on the screen, but by the people of the world around him as well. Divine and her family apparently mold much of their behavior on the expectations and prejudices of their admirers. They are hailed as the filthiest people alive and enjoy that title, but to keep it they must act out their parts. Despite the inclusion of such elements, it would, however, be wrong to take the film as a critique of American society. If criticisms are made, they serve only to enhance the feelings of revulsion the director evokes.
Animated not only by the various horrors it depicts but also by dreadful acting, pathetic production values, inept cinematography, and a ludicrous script, Pink Flamingos is a delight to watch. It is wonderfully tacky and frightfully nauseating. In creating a film of amazing dreadfulness, in contravening countless standards of good taste and subtlety, Waters has produced a brilliant work of art.
Review by Keith Allen
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