Friday, December 30, 2005

Palindromes (Solondz, 2004)

There’s dark comedy and then there’s Todd Solondz. While his last effort -- the tepid and unfocused Storytelling – suggested that perhaps Solondz had taken his unique brand of vicious social commentary just about as far as it could go, his most recent film matches the greatness of his earlier efforts in the way it plunges into the dark side of human experience. Solondz also demonstrates his growth as a filmmaker by employing a structural device that allows him to effectively underscore his pessimistic theme – that no matter how hard we try to escape, we must inevitably return to the core of ourselves. The decision to cast several different actresses in the role of Aviva is just one of many reasons that Palindromes likely will appeal to only a small percentage of movie goers. No doubt many will dismiss this as nothing more than a cheap gimmick. However, it is difficult to imagine how conventional casting could have communicated Solondz’ ideas as clearly.

We first see Aviva after the funeral of Dawn Wiener -- the female protagonist of Solondz’ debut film, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Seeing much of Dawn in herself, Aviva fears a life in which she will go unloved and die alone. Her solution is to impregnate herself at the earliest possible opportunity. From there, I do not feel comfortable revealing more of the film’s plot. Suffice to say that Aviva’s journey includes several encounters that highlight the competing forces of life and death, faith and despair, compassion and cruelty before doubling back on itself in an utterly compelling conclusion. Because the true identity of Aviva is never fixed, Solondz ensures that his story will not be about simply an individual experience, but about an existential struggle that weighs on all of us. Solondz’s actors have the extremely difficult task of negotiating a script in which the same line might elicit disgust, sorrow or laughter. Ellen Barkin in particular handles the challenge with ease in a role that would earn her an Academy Award nomination in a parallel world in which the Academy watched and appreciated films of such unabashed gall.

What is the value in a film like Palindromes? It demonstrates the sometimes severe gap between the world of our dreams and world that we actually experience. It forces us to question how much of our choices are really are own. Beyond that, it is also compelling in the way it toys with dramatic convention, finding payoffs in the most unusual of places. Palindromes is my favorite kind of film: audacious, unpredictable and utterly thought-provoking.



Post a Comment

<< Home