I just re-watched Todd Solondz's Happiness. It's a sad, disturbing, hilarious, terrifying, fantastic movie (but I don't recommend it to most people). The film centers around a group of middle-class citizens that just can't seem to get things right. There's a salesman who has a secret taboo fetish, a young woman who seems hopeless, her older sister who's a narcissistic writer (she wishes she was raped as a child, just so that she could write about the experience), a therapist who daydreams of shooting up innocent people, then later goes and entertains a fetish of his own--pedophilia. There's a loser boyfriend who kills himself after being dumped, an older man who divorces his wife after 30 years just to be alone, an overweight woman who commits a terrible crime after being raped, a Russian who isn't what he seems, and, lastly, a housewife who has "everything." She calls her mother and sisters frequently and asks "So did you see Leno last night?"
The first time I watched in disgust. In terror. Some scenes are shot with such cold detachment, such ambivalence as horrifying images are shown, that you can't help but laugh, so as not to scream. A scene of particular astonishment occurs after the therapist rapes one of his son's friends. He tells his son straight-faced what happened, after being questioned. I f****d him. I loved it. It's the unflinching delivery that shook me into a depression. I watched the credits, almost in tears. I've never laughed harder.
Last week I watched the same movie. Instead of disgust, I felt pity. It's a portrait of the people who found their way out through the taboo. In the bourgeois, nihilistic 21st century existence, everyone tricks themselves into believing something. Defeatism isn't exactly a philosophy that many people want to follow. For most, it's sex. Sex rips them away from their boring lives, and they let it rule them. Take the case of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character--a man who sits at his desk every day, answering phones, and blankly staring. He tells his therapist (ironically, the pedophile), "I'm boring. Don't deny it. People look at me and say 'look how boring he is.' They zone out when I talk." At home he looks up random women in the phone book just to fantasize to their voices. One day he calls the writer. She calls him back and wants to meet up. He clams up and hangs up. His fetish goes no further than the telephone. It lets him avoid emotion. Emotion kills sex. Contrast his fetish with the therapist's. They both hate themselves for doing what they do, but they do it for the same reasons; satisfaction. Their contentment is short, but it's more than most people get. The therapist gets caught; the caller doesn't. Anonymity saves him. Anonymity saves a lot of people.
In fact, everyone in the movie is looking for contentment in a world where contentment is impossible. The writer tries to take her boredom and turn it into awesome suffering. By individualizing herself, she's given her life a purpose. She throws away man after man, calling them "hollow." Her crusade gives her the satisfaction that simple joy can't. Happiness. To her it's a call from a publisher. Self-recognition saves her.
The odd-character out is the housewife. The one who says she has everything. Her sub-conscious optimism, so unhealthy that she can't see the fact that her husband is a pedophile (the same one), even after he says to her, crying, "I'm sick." She shields everything around her. She's living the American dream, three kids, a nice husband, a big house, her life is "perfect." Interesting that the most unlikable character in the movie, the least sympathetic, is the only "normal" one. She smiles at other's misfortunes, tells her little sister that she's "destined for failure", and doesn't have sex with her husband (fine with him). Sex is dirty, sex is taboo, sex is open, sex is alive. Why would she want to be woken up?
And on it goes, one tale after another, interlocking and splitting. I'm sure that it's a great movie. Maybe even one of the best that I've ever seen in my life. But I don't want to watch it any time soon. It needs years to sit with me, to change and to evolve, until I can come back to it with a different perspective. Now, I see it as people. People who can't fight there way out of the vastness of nothingness in one piece. The separation is victimization. Some get caught, others don't. Some are doing nothing illegal. The emptiness they feel is universal, though. They fill and fill, but in the capitalistic ideal of America, the gap is never closed. And if they manage to pry it shut for a moment, it's the only moment that matters. It's that moment that people base their lives on. One character never had a moment; the young woman. Her aimlessness is pitied by the rest of the characters. I relate with her. The tragedy in Happiness is two-fold. For most of the characters, their holy moment forced them to flee to society's underbelly. For the girl, the lack of a moment forced her into an eternal limbo. Better hope you have your moment soon. And better hope Big Brother gives it a gold star.