John Waters is well-known for his shocking and offensive films of the ‘70s, and “Pink Flamingos” is no exception. Advertised on the DVD cover as a “paragon of bad taste,” the movie is incredibly difficult to watch but somehow still rings important in the general canon of movie history, shock factor and the portrayal of America.
The story is that of Divine, a criminal who is touted as the filthiest person alive by tabloids and who holds that title in high regard. Currently, she is hiding out under the assumed name Babs Johnson in a trailer with her mother Edie, her friend Cotton and her son Crackers. In another part of town, Connie and Raymond Marble, a married couple who run an underground baby ring by kidnapping girls, impregnating them and then selling the babies to lesbians, believe that they in fact are the filthiest people alive and decide that they have to prove their status by going to war with Babs and her family.
There are also multiple subplots: the spy named Cookie who seduces Crackers to get information for the Marbles brings us to one of the most disturbing sex scenes on film. Then there is Edie’s love for eggs and her eventual love for the Eggman who delivers the eggs, and some depth into the Marbles’ hostages and their slave/butler/impregnator, Channing.
What makes this movie almost impossible to sit through is the grossness and lewdness portrayed and the way in which the characters interact with each other. The entire film is yelled in barely memorized and repetitive monologues, making you crave silence and civility. Waters has no shame in showing disgusting and shocking scenes ranging from the mild Edie scarfing scrambled eggs with her hands to the nauseating Divine eating actual dog feces. As the movie progresses, you do somehow feel that Divine should win the contest of filthiest person alive and have something invested in the film, but most of it is a giant question of “why do I have to see this?”
This “why” is exactly why the film is so important. Especially in its final scenes, where Divine gives Connie and Raymond a trial in a Kangaroo Court and has open discourse with the press that comes to cover the story for their tabloids. This dialog is a direct statement on the state of society, as the reporters are the only characters not yelling or overly characterized. They represent the “real world” or “normalcy,” where the world of Babs Johnson is “abnormal” and “filthy”. In fact, Waters’ whole film is an attack on the normal, average lives of people in society and his goal is explicitly to disgust that “real world” audience. The title of “Pink Flamingos” is telling, as what is a pink flamingo but the ugly artifice placed in the lawns of so-called societal conformists. The question then arises as to who is the artifice in this tale of America; is it the people who behave as we would expect and exploit the story, or is it the people who compete constantly to be the filthiest people alive? Is Waters trying to say that they are one in the same?
Though the movie often causes you to look away and want to turn it off, its existence is necessary in the film world and even in the world as a whole. Waters uses the horribly offending imagines in his films to drive home social truths that many refuse to see, and sometimes that is what society needs. Something for people to hate or love or ignore, but also something that throws American society back in your face in the most obnoxious way possible. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I don’t condemn it, either. It’s in the library, for anyone with a strong enough will and stomach to give it a try.