Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Indie Gem: Dark Horse (2011)

Excerpt from an actual text message conversation:

Me: Just watched Dark Hose, have you seen it? Todd Solondz still has it.

Friend: No, what's it about?

Me: The same thing as every Todd Solondz flick: being a loser.

Indeed, Todd Solondz is the reigning voice of the cinematic loser. Although a statement like that indicates he is on their side which he certainly is not. He's not on anyone's side. What makes his films so hard to consume, especially if viewing them under the impression that you're about to see a comedy, is that Solondz's voice is always cold, objective, intellectual and completely detached. He seems to exist in his own world which he shares with only himself. This is, after all, the man who once complained that a waitress in a diner calling him "dear" was too personal and made him uncomfortable.

This is what Solondz looks like:

His characters have included a gawky adolescent girl:

A chronic masturbater who picks random names out of the phone book to make lewd phone calls to:

And a suburban pedophile who drugs and rapes his son's friends during sleepovers:

Solondz once recounted presenting Happiness, the masterpiece that features the pedophile, and afterwards was approached by a pedophile who thanked him for "actually getting it right." He was allegedly disgusted by this.

And, with that, we have the cinema of Todd Solondz.

It's a cinema of indifference. I'd, like everyone else, call Solondz a master of black comedy but, whaddya know, he hates the term. Of course he does. To call his films comedies would mean he's moved someone emotionally into feeling something generic and therefore unreal and we surely wouldn't want that, would we?

So, his is also a cinema of observation. There's no comment on these characters; no point of view regarding their place within society. These films are simply observational character studies. They admit that these people exist in the world and that's about it. Solondz leaves it up to us to decide how we feel about sharing the same world as them, leading audiences by the hand into uncomfortable situations and abandoning them there to find their own way out.

Needless to say, he's not for all tastes.

And now comes his latest Dark Horse, which, like all of his films, is an unsung gem.

It revolves around this man:

Abe, middle-aged, single, misunderstood, drives a Hummer, living at home with his parents who don't really do much but sit, glued to the TV.

Abe works for his cold father who prefers his brother who went off and became a doctor. He doesn't do much at work but surf Ebay, wondering if he should pay $400 for a sealed Thundercats action figure when he already has two of them in his bedroom and throws angry tantrums every time he's accused on not doing the minimum his job requires of him.

He meets this girl at a wedding. He fails to recognize her indifference towards him.

She's also middle-aged, living at home and depressed, a failed writer on the rebound after a break-up.

Needless to say, like all of Solondz's characters, this man is the recipient of both my sympathy and my disgust. He's a loud, oafish man; a lazy child who needs to grow up and get his shit together. At the same time, there must be some relevance to his internal sadness caused by his aloof parents who really pay him no mind as he coasts through life without guidance or direction. Who's fault is arrested development really anyway?

That's what Solondz does, provides both sides in a potential argument and leaves the rest up to us, always leaving the audience with the unpleasant reality of needing to make up their own minds. Is Abe a good man or a despicable one? Is all of this funny or tragic? Is there any hope for these people or are they all doomed by their social dysfunction? You can go on like this all day. This is, after all, the only film in which the scene where someone finally calls Abe out on his bullshit is cut , mid dialogue, before it finishes.

So does that mean there's no hope after all? The film doesn't quite seem to be sure and, before it comes to it's final conclusion, after a string of dream sequences that flip flop your emotional perceptions back and forth several times, neither will you.

As a filmmaker Solondz is in a league of his own. He's that weird guy over in the corner of the room, not saying much, not socializing with anyone; just watching and taking it all in. His films are a reflection of how he sees us. After having seen them, the question is always the same: How does that make you feel?

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