Film ó Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle

Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle

by Amy Diaz

A look at culture, race relations, fart jokes

In case you missed it, go rent Harold and Kumar today

I made a mistake in my list of the best movies of 2004.

Just as many an Oscar voter does, I, in compiling my year-end list, completely forgot about one of the best movies Iíd seen all year. A movie that surprised me. A movie that had more to say about race than just about any other film I saw last year. A movie that made me laugh, made me think, made me hungry.

Iím speaking, of course, of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.

Is it possible that one of the smartest movies of the year is amovie that includes an extended scene wherein two girls compete to create the loudest, longest fart? Yes, yes it is.

The basic premise of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is that two guys, one named Harold (John Cho) and one named Kumar (Kal Penn), go to White Castle for some hamburgers.

Yup, thatís it.

Well, I mean, I guess a few other things happen. They get high first. They get propositioned by the freakishly beautiful wife of a freakishly misshapen husband. They get picked on by a monster-truck full of rednecks. They ride a leopard at one point. Kumar has a dream sequence wherein he romances and marries a big bag of weed. Neil Patrick Harris (yes, Doogie) shows up and snorts coke off the backside of a hooker. But the goal, the central motivating theme of the plot is that two hungry guys want hamburgers. Specifically, the onion-laced, three-bite-sized hamburgers of White Castle.

Perhaps it is the simplicity of the storyline, plus the rather frequent use of gross-out humor and the constant weed references, that helps to obscure a shockingly smart subtext of a buddy stoner movie.

No, seriously.

Near the beginning the movie sets up two intertwining but separate plot threads. One is the dizzying, disorienting experience of being out of college and at the beginning of the rest of your life. The other is the expectations and annoyances of being an upper-middle-class minority in America.

Harold is on the entry level of the corporate world and not tremendously thrilled to be there. The movie opens as two guys at his company plan a night of debauchery and decide to dump their extra work on ďthe Asian guy.Ē Clearly an achiever, Harold seems unsure that this job is quite the reward he was expecting for his years of work. He harbors an intense crush for a neighbor but he seems completely unsure of how to approach her ó not unusual for post-college kids who have lost the social structure that made it so easy to meet people. 

Kumar is on the cusp of medical school and fighting this approaching maturity with the ferocity of an angry wet cat. He is brilliant, we are told, but he intentionally throws his med school interviews in an attempt not to turn into a clone of his father and older brother. What does he want? He doesnít seem to know but the idea of responsibility terrifies him to the core.

For both guys, the expectation of achievement and the desires to rebel against a prefab world of staight-laced adultness are not just part of the struggles of growing up. Both Harold and Kumar are part of that high-stress community of first- and second-generation Americans where success isnít just expected, itís demanded. As American as any MTV-watching fast food patron, Harold and Kumar are nonetheless not quite, er, you know, regular. The movie uses race with surprising deftness ó showing the thin slice where the guys live between the sense of community they donít feel in their respective ethnic groups and the way these clearly assimilated Americans still donít completely blend in. More and more, hyphenated-Americans, especially the kids who now enter college, are more like Harold and Kumar than their accent-possessing parents. Does race cease to matter if we all grew up in the same suburb and shopped at the same Gap? (The question becomes even more pointed in a sequence in which a black guy is arrested over and over again despite not being guilty of anything except, well, being a black guy.) Or will minorities always be designated as minorities as long as Kumar has to endure jokes about Apu?

Deep questions coming from a movie with several scenes about poop.

If the weed-heavy promos kept you from the genuine hilarity and surprising intelligence of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle while it was in the theater, its recent release on DVD provides an opportunity you must take ó for the good of the country ó to enlighten yourself. In addition to the feature as it appeared in theaters, the DVD includes additional scenes, a documentary called The Art of the Fart, commentary with Cho and Penn, outtakes and interviews with some of the cast.

- Amy Diaz

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH