For the past few weeks I have been watching exclusively Todd Solondz’s (or Solondz’?) movies. They are great, especially Happiness (1998) and Wiener-Dog (2016). Looking almost exactly like Paul Giamatti (and fuck, he knows that, since he cast the guy to play himself in ‘Storytelling’), Mr. Solondz is actually what Charlie Kaufman could be if he was a little less schizophrenic and a little more perverted. The two have a similar ephemeral love-hate relationship with their characters, managing to create misery in the lives of the most seemingly stable Hallmark-postcard families.
Solondz feels exactly that towards the main character of Dark Horse (Justin Bartha) – Abe, an overweight loser in his early thirties who lives with his detached and emotionally drained father (Christopher Walken) and a terrifyingly loving mother (Mia Farrow). Abe meets a beautiful and visibly depressed woman named Miranda (Selma Blair) and forces her into a date with him. Miranda is frustrated with her literary and academic failures and completely emptied by a recent breakup with a guy named Mahmoud (Aasif Mandvi). Mahmoud tells her to lower her expectations from life and take last resort by becoming a housewife to some husband-material of a man, whom she finds in Abe.
I hated this film. And not in the way that Todd Solondz, perhaps, wanted the viewer to. It seems obvious to me that the picture was an exercise in both sociopathy and the limits of human compassion. To feel for the disgusting character would be to prove the point of the director that the most miserable, revolting person can expect sympathy. However, it is merely the phenomenon of cinema that the central character, the character in the main focus, will always be the target of our interest and compassion. It works similarly out of the blue screen as well: we grow to adore and support those, who we meet every single day – ourselves. But why? Is it because we are capable of experiencing emotions towards even the least appealing of people? I don’t think so, since it is all just a matter of time and perspective. The same film told from a different perspective would result in a completely opposite experience.
Cinematic narrative doesn’t seem to be effective when it carries a clear agenda or a moral premise. It should be up to the viewer to extract an idea from a seemingly objective piece, because that is when a picture can be most effective. Todd Solondz, by the way, is extremely good at communicating ideas to a viewer effortlessly and unobtrusively. Wiener-Dog (2016) is one fantastic example of that. It is an anthology of anecdotes, which are hinting at something, yet do not have any concrete position. Putting a thought into a viewer’s mind will always work, if you make him think that he came up with the idea himself.