Surrealism is a misunderstood genre. Film critics, especially, are quick to pass judgment against it. Often misunderstood, surrealist works of art are quickly labeled negatively. Tom Green’s film, “Freddy Got Fingered” is one of these, and has been labeled by many a critic as “the worst comedy film of all time,” bar none. The irony of such a criticism coming from Hollywood film critics is that they gather their expertise from reviewing arguably some of the worst films in the world. They heap praise upon certain Hollywood films as ‘masterpieces’, films that would get laughed out of Venice or Cannes. So what qualifies a masterpiece from a horrible film in a critic’s eyes, and what specifically gives the ‘worst’ movies such popularity (cult films are inherently misunderstood by critics) at times?
For critics of “Freddy Got Fingered,” the largest complaints levied against it were its gross-out or shock humor, most notably the scene where Tom Green’s character, Gord, whirls a newborn infant around his head by its umbilical cord in an attempt to save its life. Stillborn, Gord panics when the child he just delivered in the emergency room is discovered to be lifeless, and his emergency response is to whirl the child around his head by its umbilical cord, saving its life in the process, and receiving thanks from the mother. “I did it!” Gord exclaims. And this scene becomes the point of disconnect for the film critic from the film. Widely criticized as an attempt to shock or gross-out the viewer, critics miss the crucial character development that Gord has experienced up to this point. The story of the main character’s ineptitude, and his struggles against the world to find his place in a society (and a father) that so often rejects him, this scene is a defining moment for Gord, instilling in him confidence and leading to his conviction that he is on the right path in life, that he can be successful just by being his zany self, without worrying about fitting one of the uncomfortable molds that his society expects of him.
This is what separates Tom Green from many of his contemporaries (i.e., Jackass, Viva La Bam). Often placed in the same genre, audiences and critics alike often miss Tom Green’s subsurface meanings, the critical social issues that underlie his often absurd antics. The show “Jackass” is indeed a Tom Green ripoff, extracting the violence and injecting homoerotic humor as the show’s staples, it is a surface-level prank show that seeks exactly what many of Tom Green’s critics claim: to shock or gross-out the viewer. Bam Margera’s own spinoff of “Jackass,” the show “Viva La Bam,” tones down some of the “Jackass” violence and homoeroticism, taking instead from Tom Green’s prank bin, especially that of harassing his own parents. But Bam’s efforts to goad his parents without the metaphors that Tom Green so often uses as launching points is purely in an effort to entertain the viewer, and provokes no reflective thought.
Tom Green surprised and mocked celebrity-obsessed culture with the production of his own ‘number one hit’, the “Bum Bum Song.” Both a reflection of his efforts earlier in life to make his way in the world as a musician, and poking fun at the lack of quality control in the entertainment industry, Tom Green became a successful artist by being more absurd, albeit much the same, as the entertainment industry tends to be. This, along with other sketches, highlighted with absurdity what is indeed absurd in our own society. The “where are you going?” sketch shows a crazy old man becoming violently reactive to Tom Green’s personal questioning, the “planking” sketch shows how uncaring people are and ignore his apparent need for assistance, the “pizza delivery” sketch shows market competition in the microcosm of Tom Green undercutting the pizza guy’s sales. Tom Green also captivated the news media with anticipation of a Monica Lewinsky announcement that became most insignificant and quite a let-down. Local media was effectively duped by Tom and Monica, and quite angered at their own ignorance.
In “Freddy Got Fingered” Tom Green explores social issues, utilizing the absurd as a way of highlighting society’s injustices and misgivings, with events so ridiculous that at first the viewer begins to laugh, but then later begins to understand the correlation with the real world. Tom Green’s character in the film is a struggling artist, a familiar mantra, who goes to Hollywood in search of his dreams, as so many promising young people do as well. Gord lands a job in a “Cheese Sandwich Factory,” which again reflects real society, the pursuits of artists that must begin slow or fall short of initial stardom and ultimately success in the eyes of others. The Cheese Sandwich Factory represents the risks of achieving success in a Capitalist society. The dreamer, the artist, full of potential, must assume high levels of risk to achieve their reward. So they sacrifice their families, their homes, their lives, to travel to Hollywood, only to meet meager mediocrity at the outset. And most artists don’t make it past this point. They become lifetime wage-laborers, identified in the film by the ‘factory’ aspect of Gord’s employment.
But not Gord. He’s not gonna give up. So he hunts down Mr. Davidson, who represents a business magnate or media proprietor, sometimes a figure largely influential in our society in determining the fate of an artist, solely based on their whim. Of course Gord has to create a lie to the receptionist about Mr. Davidson’s wife in order to meet him, because opportunities in our society do not come abound except when we press the limits of morality. “His wife’s dead!” Gord explains to the receptionist, and she gives Gord the information to go find Mr. Davidson. Without creating such a fabrication, Gord’s dreams would have been crushed solely because he did not already maintain a position of privilege or influence in society. He later literally takes Mr. Davidson’s advice to become successful by getting “inside the animals” of his animated characters to help him further develop them and make Gord successful. So he wears a deer hide in an attempt to become successful like his wealthy proprietor.
It’s not all political, though. The other large underlying theme in “Freddy Got Fingered is social relations in our society. The most pressing issue in the film is the relationship between a father and his son, and how society’s expectations heavily influence that relationship, either to the point of destruction, or possible success. Gord is twenty-eight years old and unsuccessful based on society’s expectations. He constantly makes efforts, though, to prove his worth. Gord is creative, perhaps one of the worst curses for an aspiring Capitalist. Because even the most quality entertainers would go nowhere in life if not for adhering to societal trends that are overseen by Capitalists trying to profit off of starving artists. Creativity goes nowhere if it is not an enterprise endorsed and funded by more privileged members of society. So when Gord’s father walks into his own living room to find Gord playing the keyboard, with sausages suspended from the ceiling, attached to his fingers via a pulley system and strings, singing “daddy would you like some sausage?” Gord explains to his father that he’s “being creative,” in an attempt to prove his societal value to the world. That is what Gord feels he can most contribute to society, so absurd though it may seem, he’s just trying to contribute, seeking his place within society.
Gord spends most of the movie tied to attempts to impress his father in the film, an angry Rip Torn who just wants his son to be successful. It is tough for Gord to maintain the relationship he holds with his parents while attempting to reconcile his own dreams and manage their expectations as well. So Gord feels pressured again into lying, adhering to the underlying theme that self-progression in a Capitalist society often crosses boundaries that a more civilized or advanced culture would not see. So when Gord is discovered dancing in front of a mirror, wearing one of his father’s suits, backwards, Gord feels pressured and creates an elaborate lie for his father, taking him to dinner celebrating his employment, the scene a façade of the material indicators in our society of a position of wealth and personal success.
At a point in the film when Gord’s father goes into a fit of rage and destroys Gord’s boyhood half-pipe along with their father-son relationship that is so important for the development of good men, Gord becomes disillusioned with his father and the whole scenario he’s in, and eventually in an act of vengeance against his father and a society that thus far does not suit him, he falsely accuses his father of sexual molesting his brother. Comedic elements are the fact that both boys are grown men, yet the social workers all treat the accusations as real, because as we are aware, these type of perverted people do actually live in our society. So Freddy’s grown brother is sent to a home for molested children against his will, because our society has developed to the point where we anticipate corruption rather than assuming the best of people. This is also a critique of the ineffectiveness of a common law legal system that gives more weight to precedence and encourages pushing legal boundaries in pursuit of profit.
But in the end, when Gord finally becomes successful in his Capitalist pursuits, he apologetically reunites with his father, having reconciled within himself all parties with his success. The irony here is that Gord’s creations are based on his real life observations of people including his father, just like Tom Green’s actual creative works. The theme of the movie then becomes male bonding because of the renewed relationship between a father and one of his sons. So based on Gord’s current accumulation of capital based on his recent success, and playing off an old laborers adage from his father about “sewing soccer balls in Pakistan,” Gord flies his father to Kuwait to do just that as part of their relationship-mending process. The male bonding in a society that so often alienates people from each other in their selfish pursuits of capital is represented in a scene where Gord and his father masturbate an elephant, together. A microcosm of a father helping his son to adulthood, this scene serves as the culmination of the film.
“Freddy Got Fingered” concludes as a film chock full of criticisms of society that are intended to make the viewer think about our society’s quirks. When the comedy is stripped away and the current state of society is revealed through absurd comedic devices, Tom Green’s work becomes more than just shock or gross-out humor. It becomes a criticism of the society in which we live. He tackles very serious issues with humor in order to display the irony of our society. So the next time someone tries to tell you that a creative piece of work is worthless, maybe you should take a look to see if you can find something more. After all, genuine artists create to have their voices heard. True art is not always about money and profit.