Sunday, October 2, 2011

LIFE DURING WARTIME (Todd Solondz, 2009, USA)


Originally published at Kevyn Knox's fine blog THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FRAUD IN THE WORLD.

"He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." (Exodus 34: 6-7)

Todd Solondz’s cinematic allegory is as depraved as the archaic Torah, anchored in the cold hard fear of modernity’s unholy scripture to reveal people lost in contradiction and religiosity.

A tale of three sisters who live in the worst of times, echoes of war like a hard rain thrumming upon a collective consciousness, drowning in a thick morass of denial and guilt. The film focuses it’s penetrating gaze upon Trish, whose husband is serving State Time for child rape (though she has told her two youngest children he’s dead); her sister Joy who is mired in an abusive relationship and carries the dead weight of the past on her back like an addiction; and the witch-like Helen who has transformed her family’s pathos into a successful career. Ironically Helen is the mot independent character in the story, both from her sisters and their melodrama, yet she is the most superficial and neurotic, awash in the depths of Lethe. But Joy and her Moaning Myrtle persona becomes tiresome and rather annoying, her helium voice penetrating the talky narrative like shrapnel through the audience’s eardrums. And Helen is too static and unbelievably needy to reflect upon, a woman who speaks of her sexual gratification to her 12 year old child. I suppose it’s meant to be shocking but it reveals no insight or desire into her skewed expectations. Helen remains a squeaky door (hiding skeletons, of course) that is more interesting left closed.

Solondz distances the viewer with formal dialogue and clockwork conversations, capturing melodrama dominated by talking heads. He develops a boorish pace as dialogue is vomited between annoying characters, flickering between close-ups and reaction shots to the “subversive” content. Solondz reduces a very interesting story into a process that is as exciting as watching amoebas reproduce, always keeping the audience distant from any revelation or self-discovery. These are people who do not exist, avatars created to spout inane (though sometimes funny) dialogue with robotic routine. Solondz doesn’t offer any closure to their artificial wounds and that’s fine, actually preferable, but the characters are so disingenuous that they fail to breath and live as human beings. Stuck between forgiveness and forgetfulness, they are too blind to see the third option. A very human fault lost in the hardwired script.

Final Grade: (C-)

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