Palindromes - Todd Solondz - USA - 2004
Viewed 3rd June 2004 - Tyneside Cinema Ticket price £6-00
No message from dead woman walking
Palindromes like Todd Solondz’ earlier Happiness, has the feel of a cartoon: a Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs goes through one of those sequences in which he adopts multiple forms of identity in order to escape the hunter or ……whatever. It’s not only that the Palindrome characters transpose their identities into different bodies into different forms in the same roles. Palindrome also shares some stylistic traits with Toon town in that as a visual experience its characterising feature is density. Where it differs from the Toon town key note is that its emotional and psychic tone is deadness. It is a message from the dead zone opening with death and closing with death with a bias towards the female.
It’s a film that has almost no luminous quality. Except for tracking shots from vehicles most of film is the framed in cordoned off spaces such as bedrooms, motels and wooded locations. There are few window shots and no spaces where light streams, of light sparkling, of light illuminating or light movement. As in cartoons light in Palindrones has the quality of being something immobile, a function of colour and pattern contrasting the hyper-realness of the sets. In the space created in Palindrone - with one exception - there is no issuance of luminance as an intensity.
The exception is one short sequence where the light suggests another world rather than a strip of framed space. Henrietta(Aviva) is taken to Ma Sunshine’s where she is greeted by the Blind Girl in the White dress who is hanging washing on the line. Solondz shoots the sequence against the light and the film shimmers - an affective illusion he is quick to dampen. Henrietta has not chanced into an enchanted world, rather another controlled zone. Palindromes is about spaces not worlds: and as film it is locked into corners and holes. And as if to balance this density of compositional structure Todd Solondz mixes to white as a device for sectioning and marking off discrete sequences of the film, at which point the screen reflects an image of pure light back to the audience, a motif giving temporary relief from the absorbion of light that characterises the dramatic strips of the action.
Solondz understands that for the West World 21st century there are no stories left to tell. We do not have cultural resources that include ‘stories’ on the inventory list of expressive modes. What we have instead are strips of action that show the movement of individuals through frames. Stories are based on structural tensions: strips of action are grounded in character and situational tensions - the personal. Palindromes is a series of strips modeled on familiar thematic material - Dorothy - Red Riding Hood - Snow White - but transformed through the distorting mirror of American society. In a manner that is characteristic of strip style fomulations Palindromes is moved along by utterances: statements of personal perspective and value, rather than questions. The scripted utterances in Palindromes drawn from a collusion of therapy speak and Walt Disney, are the critical components defining what is going on here. So what’s happening?
Central to structural matrix of Palindromes is the inverse relationship of adult and child and the idea of female troubles. Firstly as adult American society is progressively infantalised, children, as a kind of autonomic compensation, become distorted adults trapped by the stimuli and expectations of the adult world - deterritorialised children. There is one area of prevarication: the reproductive reality of the body. This area of evasion creates a situation where deterritorialised children may seek to reclaim their world, even though it no longer exists. Although there is a sub-plot that is built around the botched murder of the doctor who performed the botched abortion on Aviva, the plot status in the film is fantastical rather than real.
At the core of the film is the idea that US (Western) society exposes everyone, and specifically children, to an intense sexual grooming( the anticipation of sexuality). This grooming denies reproduction as a real biological consequence, setting up primary tensions between body and life style that threaten immanent fracture of both psyches and social releationships. Palindromes measures this idea in a female psyche with a subsumed multiple personality called Aviva, as she checks out various responses: from somatic capitulation and suicide, to murder of the abortionist. The growth of the fundamentalist Christianity to America now, is depicted as a consequence of infantile yearnings driven by the insecurities of living in a cultural disaster zone.
Palindrones starts with a prayer for the dead and ends with the dead. From dead to dead. The problem with the film, for all its intelligence and virtues is that it is soul- less. Without soul or a humour(there’s some internally referenced black humour) that cuts through the crap it remains a stolid and rather heavy experience that is unable to rise above the obvious parameters which are set by American culture which actually imprisons the film. Palindrome a film that is a prisoner of itself. Like the idea itself: pointing at self referencing rather than meaning.