If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison
us, do we not die? – Shylock (Merchant of Venice)
I like the films of Todd Solondz. He shows an unfamiliar world created by images. Usually in every movie (especially in Indian movies) we find a hero or heroin with whom we can easily sympathize and adore or create a moral universe that simplifies the chaos and ambiguity of everyday life into clarity of entertainment. We are presented to a predefined ideology where our sensibility is victimized. Todd Solondz is free of all ideology he’s interest is in extremes, and pushing the boundaries of human behavior, “What are our limits and how do that make us richer? Or not, if we are able to embrace all this about who we are ?” He asks.
His movies are not an easy watch. In his latest movie life during wartime, pedophilia is conflicted with terrorism. He talks about films as if he were surprised at their gruesomeness. He says “look my job is to manipulate the audience without my audience feeling as they are being manipulated. He will describe how he cannot watch the borderline rape scene in storytelling while it was being filmed.
Life during wartime is a close circuited movie, we expect a crack at every moment but it doesn’t happen. When it happens, we don’t know it happens.
He introduces forgiving and forgetting as the main themes. But, we know forgiveness is a tangled question. Often, the people who must be forgiven become people to forgive. It is when we try to forget; we remember everything.
A convicted pedophile gets out of prison and tries to reconnect with his two sons. His ex-wife has fled from New Jersey to Miami to escape the shame. Her sister Joy is haunted by her old beau, an obscene phone caller who now indulges “just a little— on Sundays”; the other a suicide victim who continues to taunt her from beyond the grave. In his delightfully creepy movie Todd Solondz remains fascinated by the great and small crimes of which humans are capable and touched by their attempts to rationalize or conquer them. The director skillfully rescues his characters from the viewer’s determinations, what we suddenly feel sad about a scene it awakes in to funny. All are wounded quickly so they are eager to forgive.
Somehow all the characters fall in to a depressive world view. To escape from his pedophile husband, Trish keeps telling her children and others that her husband is dead, though he has just been released from the jail; their college-age son Billy who wishes his dad really were dead; their 12-year-old, Timmy approaching his bar mitzvah and tormented with issues of guilt and forgiveness; and their daughter Chloe who, though just a child, already has mastered the family’s depressive world view. At the dinner table she says, “Mommy, the baby carrots— they’re looking so sad.”
In an intense emotional scene, we see the father come to see his fled son. It is the last thing he wants, to meet his father. But, when he meets the father, his anger dissolves. Still, he tells him “I wish you were dead” his sense of abandonment from his loving, twisted father has turned to rancor. When son tells that he is doing research on homosexuality in animal kingdom, as if terrified father asks improper questions about his sexuality. Father tells the son that he came to see that his son wouldn’t become like him. At the end he tells him “when you were born, so tiny, I held you tight, and future seemed so possible.” He goes away asking to live pretending his death. But, however, wrong his father, he needs him so in feeble voice he asks him not to go. Still, nothing allows a wrong father to become a father.
Even the most cherished relation can be broken at a slightest pretext and when try to knit them together we feel more pain and more isolation.
At the end, twelve-year old Timmy cries out, “I don’t care about freedom and democracy. I just want my father.” As he speaks, Bill’s image briefly materializes on the other side of the street, and vanishes.
Read the dialogue the way it is delivered, man’s language has become better than he, it is now capable to tell him who he is:
Jacqueline: Mind if I join you?
Jacqueline: Forgive me— please tell me you’re straight.
Bill: I am.
Jacqueline: Oh, thank God. (Sips her drink.) So what are you doing here all alone?
Jacqueline: You like your work?
Bill: It pays.
Jacqueline: Good. Then we don’t have to talk about it.
Bill: Are you alone?
Jacqueline: Married. Alone. The same thing.
Bill: No. Alone is alone.
Jacqueline: I’m good at reading people, y’ know.
Bill: What do you read now?
Jacqueline: Well, I see a man. And he’s alone. And he’s straight. That’s good enough for me.
Bill: You are good.
Jacqueline: My husband was a fag.
Bill: Must have been hard.
Jacqueline: Only man I ever loved.
Bill: What happened to him?
Bill: Any kids?
Jacqueline: Not anymore. Just a pack of wolves. And they’re out for blood.
Bill: How so?
Jacqueline: They’ve decided I’m the villain — I’m a monster
Bill: Why do they think that?
Jacqueline: ‘Cause I am a monster.
Bill: People can’t help it if they’re monsters.
Jacqueline: They can’t be forgiven either.
Bill: Have you asked for forgiveness?
Jacqueline: I’m not a fool. If I were them, I wouldn’t forgive me either. In my family, there are only winners and losers.
Bill: And only losers ask for forgiveness…
Jacqueline: Only losers expect to get it.
Forgiveness and forgetting, who are capable of it? For that we must know first who has done wrong and for that we need a God to judge. But does he?