I'm sorry I said you were shit and I was champagne

Life During Wartime, 2009

Por Brais Romero Suárez

When we think of American society, we tend to think of people living in large blocks of flats. This is because, culturally, we have recorded all manner of rom-coms in our subconscious —as many as cinema and television have allowed us to. However, reality is different: a sort of silent majority as Nixon would define it. Life in the suburbs takes place not in large flats but in individual houses, hidden behind the classic white fence. But we are not here to talk about the American way of life. Quite the opposite: we are here to talk about a series of unstructured lives, broken into an individuality provoked by the constant and human need to have what we do not possess. In short, we are talking about the films of Todd Solondz.

If there is one constant in his filmography, it is his portrayal of suffering. Judaism understands suffering as a test of God to measure our faith, our trust in his pre-designed plan; for Solondz, however, suffering is an entirely human product. It is our actions, and not the plan of any higher being, that will place upon us those burdens of pain that we choose to carry. Though evidently indebted to Judaism, Solondz's approach is more agnostic than fervent, which is why we are dealing with films that do not deliver redemption: where normally the Deus ex machina we call the third act bursts in to give us a happy ending, here it is replaced by the emptiness of continuity. For in life, as in Solondz's films, there is no all-powerful hand writing nice endings.

However, Todd Solondz's vision is not depressing, but resigned. The acceptance of a life that, however much we try to redirect it, is out of our control and in the hands of power structures bigger than any single human being. One of these structures is the family, a central focus in the New Jerseyan director's filmography. Family is the nucleus of life, the minimum starting point for an identity whose construction is determined, on many occasions, by the personal relationships that forge our character, or by genetics, which make us inherit our parent’s vices and sins. Rebellion against parental figures is replaced here by a fear of proving the saying "man is the only animal that trips twice over the same stone" true. A repetition of mistakes that ranges from the innocently inheriting the family business to despicable behaviours such as paedophilia or abuse.

In a scene from Happiness, a son cries because his paedophile father only wants to masturbate while watching him; in Storytelling, a victim's confession of rape is branded as bad fiction; in Welcome to the Dollhouse, a teenage girl arranges a meeting at three in the afternoon to be raped. Sex is another fundamental pillar in Todd Solondz’s filmography. We are talking about an action totally devoid of pleasure that is reduced to an animal drive where all morality or law is forgotten. In his films, sex is the dark side of the human experience, where the brain abandons all reasoning to surrender to the most dangerous hedonism. A quest for pleasure where no prisoners are taken and where one takes what they want without thinking about the consequences.

Sex, suffering and family. Three pillars on which Todd Solondz has built a filmography where there is no redemption. Where the characters must assume the consequences of a life on the margins of society... No, Solondz's cinema is not a walk in the park where the lives hidden behind the white picket fences are perfect; his is an uncomfortable cinema, which reminds us that we are not so different from animals and that, in fact, even today these behaviours are present in our society. The filmmaker does not judge. He tells a story, however horrible it may be, as if to warn us that there is not that big a difference between us, who are a part of society, and those who are outsiders.