Todd Solondz Returns With Life During Wartime

Back with an update but the same sensibility, the director shows us that happiness is a state of mind

However distasteful (see Palindromes), Solondz's movies are genuinely philosophical (ditto). Appearing for the third time in a Solondz movie, the hyperrational computer nerd Mark Wiener functions in the filmmaker's oeuvre as the increasingly Asperger'd voice of experience. In Welcome to the Dollhouse, Mark advised his younger sister, Dawn, that high school would be better than junior high—not so, evidently. Palindromes is prefaced by a dedication that notes Dawn's suicide. There, Mark explains his philosophy that people cannot change their basic nature. Toward the end of Life During Wartime, Mark responds to Timmy's increasingly shrill attempt to puzzle out the nature of forgiveness. Can you forgive someone who punches you in the face? A terrorist? Hitler? Your father?

Mark's logical conclusion is that the phrase "forgive and forget" is a meaningless contradiction. To forget a wrong is to nullify the act of forgiveness, and yet forgetting is ultimately the most absolute form of forgiving. Or, as the paradox-minded Franz Kafka put it, "The Messiah will arrive only when he is no longer needed."

Sourpuss lovers Allison Janney and Michael Lerner
Francisco Roman
Sourpuss lovers Allison Janney and Michael Lerner

For an interview with writer-director Todd Solondz, visit villagevoice.com/movies

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