Todd Solondz’s latest, “Life During Wartime,” is currently only playing in one theater, NYC’s IFC Center, but since it had such a remarkable per-screen average over the weekend and since it’s available nationwide on IFC’s on demand service, let’s get the ball rolling on a discussion now. Those who see it later, as the film expands distribution over the next month or so, can chime in when they’re ready. Let me add that if you are one of those who haven’t yet seen it but plan to, I recommend reacquainting yourself with “Happiness.” Even though this is only being labeled a “quasi-sequel” to Solondz’s earlier film, much of the plot of “Life During Wartime” is best appreciated if you’re familiar with what the characters — all recast with different actors — went through previously. I say this having watched the follow-up with an unsatisfactory memory of certain bits of “Happiness,” particularly a plot point involving the role originally played by Jon Lovitz and now filled by Paul Reubens.
Then again, the plot of “Wartime” is not as important as the film’s mood, its themes and what its characters tell us about the world of today. I’ll admit to having as much a problem with my ignorance of Judaism — between this and “A Serious Man,” I need to familiarize myself with a few things — as with my shoddy recall of “Happiness.” But if you’ve ever contemplated the concept of forgiveness, you’ve got all you really need to get you through the film. Also, “Wartime” is by far Solondz’s most gorgeous work, so even if you’d rather not listen to the sad dialogues between the characters, you can at least mute the soundtrack, as I wanted to at times, and simply marvel at the cinematography by Edward Lachman (whose previous work gets a little nod when an “I’m Not There” poster is seen hanging in a dorm room).
I have two points that I want to spout about before I turn the responses over to you: one, as much as I’d like to I probably will never get over my annoyance with Solondz’s concentration on perversion and his overt use of disturbing situations. This may be the filmmaker’s most accessible film in some time, but it still hits the gratuitous shock button early on with such an exchange as a mother telling her 12-year-old son that a man’s touch got her all wet. And no, I’m not a prude. But I similarly get turned off by John Waters, so I guess I do have some bias against this type of transgressive cinema. I know it’s not about me being an old fuddy-duddy, though, and I welcome any ideas you have to explain or scrutinize my issue with this sort of stuff.
My second point is in response to all the talk of “Life During Wartime” being a post-9/11 film. I’ve been irritated for nearly a decade by this sort of term, which Solondz specifically applies to his film so it’s not necessarily the fault of critics. While it is true that Solondz directly deals with things pertaining to 9/11, I believe all movies and TV shows set in the world, especially in America, since 2001 can be labeled post-9/11 media. And many movies made since then but not set in the present also function as such. It was just that big of an event that it changed all thinking and permeates and underlines all creative work. Or most of it. I shouldn’t be so absolute. But don’t think that I mind the conversations in the film dealing directly with 9/11 and its aftermath, just the obvious pointing out of such discourse.
Oh, one more thing: it’s interesting that different posters for the film feature either a white or red tulip being held by Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder). As noted in the film, red is for love, white is for forgiveness. What does this say about the marketing of the film in the U.S. vs. the marketing in France?